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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

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Why Bloggers Blog: Part IV

To Share Thoughts and Gather Feedback

I originally thought this series of would be three posts, then I added a fourth, and now I confess that Part IV is not the last. I do know what the last post is, and I've begun writing it, but I'm saving it for the last post.

All of you have shaped and directed this evolving series. Goodness, Part III-A on "throw away words" didn't even exist when I began. It was prompted by SusieQ and J_G's comments after Part II on Civility (you really must read that testimony).

Then when I move on to Part III-B, it had such a tight "Civil War" theme that chose not to include President GHW Bush's letter at the end. Then my Mom's birthday post trumped and bumped that post, but it seemed to fit in with the idea of "words that last."
[She appreciated your comments by the way.]

Then on the heels of our "civility" discussion, just when I thought I was back on track for Part IV, I got that email about our state endorsing the teaching Islam in our K-12 classrooms and I genuinely needed some input from others who were familiar with what we've been saying so I didn't come across like a jerk. Your feedback on that email helped produce a much better (more civil and more focused on the true issue) response than I would have written a year ago. I may even distill the most cogent ideas into a more public response.

I have learned from all of you, and that is why Part IV changed to this topic:

I've never done what I'm about to do before, and I realize that I run the risk of offending someone by omission, but my intent is not to tag every person who has commented recently. That would be hard to do (and I'm going to get this post up Sunday night if it takes till midnight!). I've just cut and pasted some of your thoughts that will help us sum up Why Bloggers Blog and "jump start" the remaining posts and whatever discussion they may generate.

We've discussed the fact that words can hurt...

I have learned from Jody at Nitty Gritty (who has an incredible story to tell and) that"scrapping moms" occasionally get "scrappy" in their comments [they may be only "drive by" Anons], but she always handles them kindly: "I think people tend to downplay the power of words and often forget the fact that the tongue is sharper than a two-edged sword, and the wise person guards his words and such. Add to that {especially in American society} that everyone feels they have the right to 'free speech", which in turn gets twisted to mean, "I can say anything I want to (*cough, Imus, cough*) and you have a society that is moving ever-further from the reality that words do indeed matter."

Words, thoughts, and feedback can also build friendships...

Nancy in North Carolina said: "One thing that has surprised me about blogging is the relationship that develops between bloggers. Just through words... friendships are formed, connections are made, and you really do care about fellow bloggers and their well being.... I never really enjoyed writing until the computer made it easy. I love being able to edit, copy, paste, etc... Revision took on a whole new meaning when I entered the world of word processing. I LOVE IT!!! I also love to learn something new which is a big reason that I blog. Learning from others... [emphasis added]

I already mentioned J_G from Pennsylvania, but I wanted to share a quote from that comment: "I have to confess Tom, I haven't always been civil while visiting other blogs.... Then I met this very nice lady on the...blogs and I began to notice that she was making her point of disagreement much better than I was without being obnoxious, crude or condescending .... I see that the lady of whom I speak has found your blog Tom.... I am a warrior trying to become civilized and an acceptable member of society. It's a slow work in progress. Thank you both!"

To which SusieQ replied: "We have forged an online friendship that I cherish.... Indeed, she is a warrior, but that quality is what makes her writings so powerful at times. I could use a little warrior in me." She also had this to say about civility in blogging: "...people who have blogs and visit blogs tend to be more civil than what I found in the message boards [which] were like a public square or a common area where people gathered. But a blog is like your home where people come to visit. This calls for a different code of conduct...."

A reader I'm only newly acquainted with, the walking man, seems to concur: "Personally I prefer live venues because then people will see the hands, face, torso of the non-nervous reader and get it, while here in cyberworld words can always and, often are, misconstrued to an intent other than what the reader sees in front of them….Do you define yourself as reader or writer or as a kind man?"

Speaking of kindness, Josie in Vancouver said: "I always enjoy someone's writing if when I am reading, I feel comfortable....I'm not a writer but I am a "blogger" so in that way I suppose I am keeping a journal….In a way blogging has not only allowed me to get to know other people, it has allowed me to get to know me. And as a result I have found how similar we all are, no matter what our talents or levels of education....I have often said the blogging community is a very real community, with very real people, and people become friends. I am not a writer, but I am an avid reader.... There are some really interesting blogs out there....

Part I of Why Bloggers Blog prompted the first bit of feedback I was gathering for this series: I'll close with some things we've learned from just some of those snippets:

EAMonroe in Oklahoma said, " 'I tend to write about simple things noteworthy only in that they often go unnoticed. [tk]' -- That sounds a lot like the reasons I write, too....Tom, I am enjoying your "Why Bloggers Blog" series. I wish more people would take their words to heart."

leslie in British Columbia said, "I…have always used my little blog site as a way of keeping in touch with friends and family. Perhaps I'll give "real" writing a try and see how it goes."

Lone Grey Squirrel from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, (learn 100 things about him here) said, "I started blogging cause I was trying to encourage a friend who was procrastinating. However, I think I am addicted to blogging now. I blog to broaden my experience and perspective of the world an also as an antidote to work stress by allowing myself creativity and space to explore."

Dave in Ontario agreed and said, "I blog because It helps me sort through the clutter in my mind. I blog because it gives the opportunity to exercise my creative juices."

JR's Thumbprints in Detroit said: "Without blogging, my Canadian friends wouldn't be able to pick on me." A week later he said, "I certainly can wait for Part III-C (kind of sounds like a line on a tax form anyway)" JR has an observant sense of humor, but on a more serious note he said, "So many people want to be "right" about an issue; they no longer care about listening to the other side. Blogging, for the most part, gives people a chance to express their views through their writing and anxiously wait for the responses of other bloggers."

Ivan at islandgrovepress provided a helpful editorial reminder when he said of Part III-A: "Excellent post.I had thought at first to echo something my editors had been telling me for years, "good, but a tad long." This is not too long at all, and it opens up so many other avenues of thought."

Dr.John in Michigan’s U.P. said, "I have a blog but I am not a writer. I am a blogger. Writing requires skill. Blogging requires a keyboard." Of civility he later said, "Of course this is as true for the rest of life as it is for blogging. One must never speak to hurt."

goatman in Missouri said, "I am constantly amazed at how blogging holds my attention, presents other views on innumerable topics … and invites me to return to see how others respond to a presentation. Blogging allows considered discourse as opposed to that so often encountered in the world of day to day physical contacts. One has time to mull over a response and present an interesting backatcha, one hopes."

Anonymous said: "I don't blog, but in reading the handful that I do I wish I did!!!!" I appreciate kind anonymous comments. [There are two kinds of enigmatic comments: Anonymous and the one-time out of the blue comments. We can learn from both. For instance, I have learned from Biby Cletus (and other drop ins from around the world) that we never know when a guest from India (or an Islamic nation as has happened in the past) will stop by the front porch. They are welcome guests.]

We started with Nancy in N.C. so lets end with It's a FLIP-FLOP World in Savannah, Georgia, who said, "I am just a very simple lady that always wished I could write!! Always wanted to write a book, love reading them but now since I have been introduced to blogging I am so enjoying this that I am very addicted. I just write what is in my heart mostly!! I have met so many wonderful people in the last 18 months…."

That last quotation is a nice segue into Part V, but I can't guarantee that will be the next post. Sorry Part IV was so long, Ivan, but it's really not my FAULT. =)
Have a great week, Everybody!
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[Newcomers, It's not at all too late to join in with "retro-posted comments."]

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

"But, Dad, I Wasn't Going for Abstract!"

Last night we spent the evening in the home of some Korean friends whom we've become close to this year. Then today we had a wedding all afternoon and the Jr-Sr Prom this evening. After our duties were over at that event, we went by to pick up our daughter who'd spent the day at a friend's house.

Whenever these two girls are together for more than a few hours, they do creative things like tie-dye shirts, string bracelets, sand art in glass bottles, pot-holder flip flops (tie the loops into multi-color bows all over the straps), miniature snowmen (that fit all across the window sill outside) just to name a few. Today they bought little 8" x 10" canvases at Hobby Lobby and painted pictures.

As we came in the door, Nat approached me with something behind her back and said, "Do you want to see a really awful painting?"

"I'm sure it's not awful. Let's have a look."

"I call it 'The Storm.'" She said, holding it up.

"Cool, an abstract!" I said in earnest.

"But, Dad, I wasn't going for abstract," she sighed.

"Do you even know what 'abstract' is?" I asked my eleven-year-old.

"Yeah, it's when what you painted doesn't look like what you say it is, but this does look like what it is. The purple is a cloud and this blue is the rain coming down and the dark gray is a rock. Don't you see it?"

"Yes, I see it perfectly. I like it, and it's even more beautiful through your eyes, but you should know that 'abstract' is not an insult. It lets me imagine why you called it that, why a storm cloud might be majestic purple, and how rain can fall so hard that nothing can be seen but the solid rock. That's actually very meaningful. Do you know what a metaphor is?"

"A word picture? Like 'You are my sunshine'?"

"Right, and what might the rock in the picture be?"

"A foundation. Like in the song, 'The wise man built his house upon the rock.'"

"Exactly! So here you have three elements in a picture that show us who brings the storms of life and what gets us through them. We would not have seen this meaning if it were a photographic image showing everything as it really is. Not everyone will see what we're talking about, but you and I do. That's the beauty of abstract. Now do you see?"

"Yes, but it still looks real to me."

"It is, Nat, it is...."
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[I hope to post Part IV Sunday night.]

Friday, April 27, 2007

Final Thoughts ABOUT teaching ABOUT Islam

The dialogue some of us have participated in since Wenesday truly fits into our "Why Bloggers Blog" series. (Part IV is still on its way.)
In case you are just joining this thread of posts: Wednesday I received an invitation from a large state university to attend a five-day seminar on "Teaching Islam in the Classroom." This prompted some thinking and discussion between me and the person promoting the seminar. This is the third (and probably final) sharing of that discussion. I am posting these exchanges only to point out the "disconnect" between questions or ironies raised and answers given. In fairness to this person, It's quite possible she did not go through public K-12 education in America and many not be fully aware of the restrictions currently imposed on our teachers.

Third email from "sender"
[The e-mails are simply "cut and pasted" with minor changes to names.]

Dear Tom:

Actually we do have a number of gradute stduents at ["State"] U who are women and practicisng Muslims who we hope to bring into the class ...to share their views as to, for example, why they chose to wear Islamic dress, why their husbands are supporting them in their graduate work towards PH.Ds, what they want for their female children, etc. So we do intend to integrate them (they are from Malaysia and Indonesia) into the class.
The frustrations you expressed have been expressed to me by teachers who try to teach about Islam, or Judaism, or Buddhism, or HInduism or Christianity in a world history class and have parents calling and complaining! Religion is a part of everyone's culture and much of history cannot be understood without knowing about religion and we need to be able to espress this freely. There is a great difference between teaching ABOUT religion and giving Religious Education with the view of trying to convert someone. The first belongs in our schools, the second does not. And to teach about religion, one should be able to take one's students to visit ALL places of religion in a community.

Best wishes, [signed by name, Center for Asian Studies]

Unsent draft of reply written Friday night:

Dear [first name],

Thank you for your thoughtful response. I know you are busy and did not intend to have this discussion with an administrator, but it has been helpful to me.

I’m glad there are Muslim female grad students residing in Michigan who can speak on those topics at the seminar. I believe your participants will receive them graciously. The hundreds of thousands of Muslims in our state support our schools, our freedoms, and the fact that America is a “Melting Pot”—we love that about our country—but there are enemies who wish to spill that melting pot. Please encourage Dr. Khabil to reiterate that the vast majority of Muslim populations not residing here also respect America’s freedoms and that THEY TOO denounce those who wish to do us harm.

Thank you for clarifying that "There is a great difference between teaching ABOUT religion and ...trying to convert someone. The first belongs in our schools, the second does not.” I agree, but I also think that Dr. Mohammad Hassain Khabil's belief in the Koran does not disqualify him from talking ABOUT it. Does the fact that he is a devout Muslim mean that he is trying to "convert" his students whenever he talks ABOUT Islam? I don't think so.

Perhaps you will better understand the frustration not yet addressed if you remember that K-12 teachers are NOT free to teach ABOUT their religion. For instance, on “Ash Wednesday,” a Catholic teacher in a public school can be told to wash off the ashen cross on her forehead even though it’s only there one day a year. She is not trying to "convert" her class, but she would NOT be free to talk ABOUT the mark she was asked to wash off her forehead. And yet, I think most districts would allow a female Hindu teacher in our K-12 schools to display and talk ABOUT the "bindi" on her forehead. Please don't misunderstand my point. Like you, I think both teachers should be encouraged to bring this dimension to their classroom.

Think of it this way: Your seminar is for K-12 teachers (not comparative religion teachers, just regular K-12 teachers of any grade or subject). Your brochure says you will provide a CD with 30 lesson plans for teaching ABOUT Islam in the classroom. It also mentions “other materials” will be provided. Will any of those lessons make use of the Koran? That would make sense to me, but will the State Board granting the CEUs also grant that teachers be allowed to have a Koran on their podium?

As you said, "Religion is a part of everyone's culture and much of history cannot be understood without knowing about religion." Perhaps this seminar will remind the State Board that talking ABOUT Christianity's role in American [and European] history is very much like talking ABOUT Islam in World history. Likewise, it is inaccurate to teach the first 250 years of education in America without underscoring the prominent role of the Bible in early-American culture and how it continues to shape current thought.

Perhaps a new day is dawning that will restore the freedom to talk ABOUT these things. Seminars like this one you have graciously invited us to attend may hasten its arrival. If so, you are indeed promoting a newsworthy event.

I have enjoyed this discussion with you. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
[signed]
P.S. We had a full-course dinner tonight in the home of some Korean friends. It was delicious. We've eaten together many times. I must confess, I've still not acquired a taste for kimchi, but almost everything else is as enjoyable as the company we share with our new friends from Soul. We are helping them learn English, but they have taught us very much in exchange.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Interesting Follow-up on Civility and Consistency

After reading your Wednesday night feedback about that day's e-mail, I tweaked the reply (see post below) and sent it this morning. Within the hour I received this polite reply. I could not follow up on it until after school. In fairness to this person, it is possible she may have “read” only the rhetorical concern of my first email, missing the deeper issue. I have again deleted or altered (only by a few letters) the names involved. My issue is not with them. You all understand that, and I appreciate the civil nature of your suggestions on the real matter at hand. It’s possible that I should send these observations to someone up the collegiate food chain.

Thursday's E-Mail Reply...
Re: Teaching about Islam: a workshop for K-12 teachers

Dear Tom:
Thank you for your letter. The seminar is designed to promote respect and understanding for all persons and to give teachers the tools to understand Islam and to counter the negative views found in our media.
Mohammad Khabil is not only an expert in Islamic studies but is a practicing Muslim himself and I have talked to him at length and he is concerned about how Islam is represented in our schools.

Rest assured that we mutual promote respect and understanding between all religions.
The book we are giving to the teachers is one of the two best introductions to Islam by a noted scholar in the field and it non-biased and non-judgmental and tries to explain Islam from the point of view of those who practise it.

We would welcome any of your teachers into the workshop.
Sincerely, [Name] Assistant Director ...[department name]

My response for clarify the real issue:

Dear [person's name],
Thank you for your prompt reply. I hope you're having a nice day in spite of this rain. I admire your eagerness “to give teachers the tools to understand Islam and to counter the negative views found in our media.” I think America needs constant reminders that there is no cause to fear the radical Islamic views seen in videos like “Obsession.”

We fervently pray that the freedoms enjoyed by Americans—those same freedoms that allow Islamic sensitivity seminars in our schools—will soon be modeled with “Appreciating America’s Religious Foundation” seminars in Islamic schools in the Middle East. Wouldn’t that be great!

Wouldn’t it be great if Mohammad Hassain Khabil's could fly in a non-American-educated female professor from Iraq or Iran or Afghanistan to teach the section on “Muslim feminism”? That would be powerful. Maybe next summer.

I do appreciate the clarification of your seminar's goals, and trust you’ll allow me to clarify my deeper concern. You and I are expressing two different but very worthy topics for discussion among educators. Your topic is “Teaching Islam in our schools.” My topic is the clash of the ideals of your seminar with the realities of unequal opportunity for free religious expression.
Let me explain:

As a practicing Muslim, Dr. Mohammad Hassain Khabil, will be allowed to add personal insights from his faith in each lesson he teaches. On the afternoon tour of the mosque near the campus, he will be free to speak from his personal experience. The K-12 teachers he will be teaching, however, are NOT allowed to do that. As you know they are forbidden to speak of their own faith in the classroom. They could never take their class on a field trip to their church. After attending your seminar, they will be applauded for sharing their Muslim professor’s faith next fall but still scolded if they talk about their own. There's the rub.

I was glad to hear you say that the book “Islam the Straight Path” is “non-biased…and tries to explain Islam from the point of view of those who practice it.” I only wish that one of countless expert Christian educators could come to "State" U and teach a five-day seminar with a non-biased text like “A Case for Christianity,” by C.S. Lewis or “A Case for Faith” by Lee Strobel, each of which “tries to explain [Christianity] from the point of view of those who practice it”
(as you put it).

After sharing the textbook, this Christian lecturer could have a session that focuses on the endless negative Christian stereotypes found in the media. (Think about how often you see a “Christian” portrayed as a corrupt preacher or obnoxious Bible-thumper or “nut” in a film, sit-com, or “reality TV.” The Christians I know are neither “Ned Flanders” or Jules Winnfield (from Pulp Fiction who quotes Ezekiel 25:17, each time he kills someone).

The Christians I know are obviously nothing like that. They are intelligent, caring individuals who strive to follow the teachings of arguably the most influential “teacher” who ever lived. But Hollywood would rather depict modern Christians as the misguided leaders of Salem, Massachusetts, than the brilliant minds behind our Constitution and our judicial system (the very foundations that allow a Mosque to be built near your campus and for Dr. Mohammad Hassain Khabil to teach our teachers how to teach Islam in our public classrooms).

Likewise Christian students on college campuses like yours are “put down” mercilessly until they reach the point of sitting mute in class while their professor tears apart their deeply held beliefs.

Do you see the Irony? That is the source of frustration among many administrators. Thank you for not taking this personally, but if the leaders you serve in academia do not see the cause of this valid frustration, it will take far more than five-day seminars to bridge the “religious divide” as we proceed toward these shared goals.

Thank you for your time. I realize I may be addressing the wrong person, but I welcome additional discussion. Perhaps I should direct my thoughts to another department or person. If so, rest assured that your polite response to this and the previous email was appreciated.
Thank you for considering these thoughts,
[signed]
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I've already sent this follow up. Maybe it will prompt some mutually beneficial thinking.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thanks for the Feedback on a
Related Matter of Civility and Consistency

I received the following email today. I've changed the names, but it comes from the biggest university around. I have no objection to the seminar and value that it has been communicated to me. It did strike me as ironic, however, that such a seminar is being offered by a school that like all its "state" counterparts (my daughters attend and can attest to it) employs hundreds of "neutral" professors who feel it's their duty to belittle individuals whose faith is based on the Bible and make sport of thinking Christian students whose faith occasionally shows itself in the classroom.

Here's where I need your help. I've written a "professional" reply below the green text of the email. I think it makes a valid point in a kind way, but I could be wrong. Am I being a jerk? Is the observation fair? (i.e. do you know of examples where Christians are treated like idiots by their college professors?) Am I being too vague? My intent in not to "blast" but to help point out an inconsistency.

I'm going to sleep on it and decide whether to "hit send" in the morning. I don't want another Neal Cavuto experience. Your input is welcome. The reply may look long as a "post" but it's only one standard page of letterhead.

First the email about the seminar; then my reply....

Subject: Teaching about Islam: a workshop for K-12 teachers


Dear Principal or superintendent.

This notice is to let you know about an exciting FREE 5 day workshop the Asian Studies Center at "State" U is putting on for teachers. The workshop is "Teaching about Islam" and will cover both the present situation (terrorism, women's issues, the Sharia, etc) and the history of Islam with an eye towards helping teachers understand and teach this material in their courses. The workshop will run for 5 days, from [month] 25 to [month] 29, each day from 9:00am to 4;00pm with an hour break for lunch and two coffee breaks in between. The seminar will be held in the international Center at "State" U and free parking passes will be issued to participants. In addition to the seminar, teachers will receive a copy of the book "Islam the Straight Path" by John Esposito as well as other teaching materials. The workshop will taught by Mohammad Hassain Khabil who is completing his doctorate in Islamic Studies at University of Wolverine in May. the workshop flyer and application form are on this website.


[Link to website with brochure was shown here. The daily agenda included: Introduction to Islam; Muhammad: the Prophet of Islam;The Qur’an; Islam after Muhammad;Islamic intellectual history from law to Islamic mysticism;The pillars of Islam, rituals and holidays; Islamic civilization, etc. the Muslim world after the Crusades. Islam and violence; Gender in Islam, and Muslim feminism]

Please let your teachers know about this exciting opportunity State board
CEUs are being arranged for the workshop)

Thank you so much for your assistance
sincerely,
[person's name]

Assistant Director ...[department name]


Dear [person's name],

Thank you for the invitation to "State" U's seminar on religious sensitivity toward Islam in the classroom. We welcome numerous Asian students to our school each year and are aware of this topic's importance. Participants will be glad to know State Board CEU's will be awarded. That is rare when the entire agenda supports understanding one specific religion.

Having read the PDF brochure, the lectures will promote respect for Islam, the Koran, and one would assume, the exemplary treatment of students whose faith actually affects how they live. To be on the safe side, however, I'd like to make sure this is true as I consider promoting it.

Will this seminar help prevent teachers from belittling the personal religious beliefs of Islamic students? I trust it would not encourage teachers to mock Islamic students for bringing "their parents' religion" with them to a place of higher education. Will teachers leave this seminar feeling it's their duty to open the minds of Islamic students? Will the required text "Islam the Straight Path" tempt teachers to say that a "narrow way" is only for "narrow minds"? One would hope not, but I've heard that said of Christians so often that I thought I should ask.

If the seminar sessions are subtly designed to help teachers poke holes in Islam, or twist the quotations of its prophet, or question the Islamic student's need for "God," daily prayer, etc, I won’t promote it. If anything about this seminar will result in teachers teasing Islamic students or putting them "on the spot" to repeatedly defend their minority beliefs simply because they are not shared by the majority of their peers, that's a poor model for classroom dialogue. If any seminar material could later be used to convey to Islamic students that their "morality" is from an out-dated book and has no place in a tolerant society, I’d question how “tolerant” that is.

On the other hand, if Dr. Mohammad Hassain Khabil's 5-day lecture series will help teachers see how wrong it is to treat people of faith as if they are less than intelligent, I can support that. The brochure says, "Each teacher will be asked to create a teaching module or lesson plan on Islam…" and that the week "is designed to give classroom teachers a good foundation in Islam and to help them integrate understanding about this often misrepresented religion into their classes."

Sounds reasonable. For far too long, America's irreverent elite have declared open season on “believers.” Thank you, "State" U, for hosting a seminar that denounces misrepresenting people of conviction simply because they believe some things are right and some things are wrong. I'm confident that Dr. Khabil will help foster a respect for the Koran in academia that is often not extended to the Bible.

Speaking of which, please also send me any information you have on seminars that may help college professors develop this same sensitivity to all students of faith. Does "State" U (or Dr Khabil's U of Wolverine) offer seminars that address showing respect for articulate Christian students who occasionally speak or write about a topic from a biblical perspective? When are the dates? If possible, I'd like to help promote both the Islamic and the Christian sensitivity seminars. If there is no such seminar, that may explain the apparent disconnect between the worthy goals of this seminar for K-12 teachers and the insensitive “treatment” shown to practicing Christians in college lecture halls across the land.

Thank you for making this information available to us. I will pass it along to my teachers. The seminar falls on the week of my daughter's wedding, and I cannot attend. I genuinely wish every educator in the state could attend a seminar that promotes the civil treatment of people of faith. We can only hope that the thousands of Michigan teachers who don't attend will not follow the example of those college professors who have zero tolerance for faith-based world views expressed in their classrooms.

Your personal response is welcome. My purpose in responding at length is only to better understand Academia’s treatment of people whose faith is very evident in their formative thinking.
Sincerely,
[My name and position here.]
.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Why Bloggers Blog: Part III-C

A 20th Century Example of
Writing Words that Last by way of a Letter

I had the honor of visiting briefly with President George Herbert Walker Bush (41st POTUS and father of 43rd) after a fundraising event in October of 1999. I’d brought with me a copy of All the Best, his memoirs in letters. His son had already signed it a month before and the father was happy to grace the fly leaf with his own brief note and autograph.

If you have ever seen the elder Bush talk of his children, you know there is a deep affection that quickly finds its way to his tearful eyes. That happened in our brief conversation. Regardless of any other feelings some may have about these two men and the times through which they met the challenges of their presidencies, I will forever feel that they are the most tenderhearted leaders I have ever looked in the eyes, and I believe time will bear this out.
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In the spirit of civility and the respect due to letters of this nature, I invite us to set aside current public opinion and think back more than fifty years to when our current President Bush was six years old, the year his little sister (nearly four) Robin died of leukemia. In the tender years to follow, he and his brothers watched their parents work through the grief of losing their daughter.

On page 81-82 of that historic collection of letters, All the Best, there is a letter the elder Bush wrote to his mother one evening in lieu of visiting his daughter's grave. I found no copy of the text on the internet, so I’ve presented it here as Part III-C, since it is a modern example of the vulnerable eloquence discussed in Part III-B. [This was written in 1958, years before he held any political office.]

Dear Mum,

I’ve jotted down some words about a subject dear to your heart and mine….I sometimes wonder whether it is fair to the boys…to “fly high” the portrait of Robin that I love so much…every time I sit at our table with just our candlelight, I can’t help put glance at this picture you gave us and enjoy a renewed physical sensation of closeness to a loved one.

This letter… is kind of a confessional… between you and me….
There is about our house a need….We need some starched crisp frocks to go with the torn-kneed blue jeans and helmets. We need some soft blond hair to off-set those crew cuts. We need a doll house to stand firm against our forts and rackets and thousand baseball cards…. We need a legitimate Christmas angel—one who doesn’t’ have cuffs beneath the dress.
We need someone who’s afraid of frogs.
We need someone to cry when I get mad—not argue.
We need a little one who can kiss without leaving...jam or gum.
We need a girl.
We had one once—she’d fight and cry and play and make her way just like the rest.
But there was about her a certain softness.
She was patient—her hugs just a little less wiggly….
She’d stand beside our bed till I felt her there. Silently and comfortable, she’d put those fragrant locks against my chest and fall asleep.
Her peace made me feel strong, and so very important.
[Her saying] “My Daddy” had a caress, a certain ownership which touched a slightly different spot than the “Hi Dad” [of the boys] I love so much.
But she is still with us. We need her and yet we have her.
We can’t touch her, and yet we can feel her.
We hope she’ll stay in our house for a long, long time.”

.
Love, Pop...
[a nick name he used in his letters to his parents]
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Thirty years later he was sworn in as President and attempted to cast a vision for "a kinder, gentler America." Detractors mocked it at the time, but perhaps he was referring the kindness so evident in this letter and to the civility that we've been talking about in these posts. Part IV covers some of the gathered input from comments in this series as well as some remaining thoughts on Why Bloggers Blog. [It may even be followed by a Part V prompted by a comment below.]
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[George H.W. Bush speaks at Ronald Reagan's funeral.]
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Note: Based on last week's hint about this post, some of you may have thought it would be a letter from President Ronald Reagan. He was an avid letter writer--especially prolific were his notes to his wife. She later compiled in this book. Because of his Alzheimer disease, Ronald Reagan is probably best known for this letter, which closed with "I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead." I used those images and farewell letter in a poem entitled A Mourning in America .

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

A Pause for a Happy Cause
in the Series of Posts

I mentioned yesterday that Part III-C is on its way and it is, but Part III-B was pretty serious so I wanted to interrupt the series with short light-hearted post to wish my mother a Happy Birthday.

A few hours ago, a dozen people were gathered around a birthday cake in our dining room singing Happy Birthday to two people. (My mom and I weren’t singing.) You know how cautious I am about giving out personal information on the web so I’ll just say that two days after I was born, my mom celebrated her 26th birthday in the hospital. Her birthday is Tuesday.

That’s my mom there in the light green listening to a friend talk in the kitchen. Her husband Bob took the picture a few weeks ago. Most of you are somewhat new to POI, and you may only know my mother as the sweet little girl in “The Gray Hair in the House.”

Let me say that this beautiful lady, so composed and serene in her golden years is the very same mother who brought delightful balance to our lives in the “Mixed Milk” years. She is the cook who brought the lunches to the boys (and fed the dog) described in “Property.” She put the charm in “Past Tents” and “Pitching the Tent” (scroll down to June 24 at this link) She accidentally walked me past the drunk Santa in Part 1 of “When Doubt Came Slowly” (and explained the saddest bundle of letters I ever found in Part 3 of those posts).

If you have time to read only one of these links, she is the nervous bride in the story she told me a year ago as I had a chance to spend the night on her side of the state. It’s about how Bob (who took the picture) made "The Wedding Cake" for my mom and dad’s wedding. [The full 4-part version of the wedding cake story begins at this link, scroll down to April 1, "Visiting Home" and the 3 posts below it.]

My mom is not only amusing, she is the “muse” of many of my stories. I’ve been writing them here at Patterns because she reads regularly. She is an amazing woman who has been on her back more than once over the past ten years with the on-going reality represented in her pink bracelet. She arrived here Friday, four hours from her home, after that day’s radiation treatment, and yet she had a wonderful visit with my daughters, my in-laws, and the nearly 50 guests at my daughter’s bridal shower yesterday. She and Bob just headed back to the other side of the state a few hours ago.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . Happy Birthday, Mom! We love you!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Why Bloggers Blog: Part III-B

To Practice Using Lasting Words

This is my letter to the world,
That never wrote to me,
The simple news that Nature told,
With tender majesty.
Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see;
For love of her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me!
Emily Dickinson

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us - don't tell!
They'd advertise - you know!
How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one's name the livelong day
to an admiring bog!
Emily Dickinson

If Emily Dickinson had added an "L" to that last word "bog," she would be known as both a poet and a prophet in "bLog" circles. Even still, I hereby move that she be considered an honorary blogger (lacking only the technology that would come 1oo+ years later). After reading the two "posts" above, don't you wish you could leave her a comment?

But alas, the only "posts" her more than 1,800 entries saw were her bed posts. After her death, hundreds and hundreds of poems were found bundled with ribbon under her bed and in her bedside bureau. Only a handful were published (anonymously) during her lifetime.

She did "blog" a few of her musings (by handwritten letter) to a well-know editor of the time, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, but in his "comments" back to her he advised her not to publish them. He kindly thought they were a bit odd.

Through the years Emily and Thomas continued a friendship by mail. He once asked her to define poetry because he could simply not figure out many of her "posts." She wrote in her next entry: "If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?" I've read no better answer on his part.
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She took her friend's advice but continued privately "blogging" on scraps of paper tucked out of public view. The quiet "blogger" once consoled herself that publishing her work would be like auctioning off her mind [which captures the fear all writers have that their work would find no bidders]. As she gave up on publishing, her life became more eccentric and reclusive. Ironically, sometime after her death on May 15, 1886, it was Higginson who published her poems.

As Miss Dickinson's world in Amherst, Massachusetts, began closing in around her, the Civil War was expanding in the states to her south. Just as Emily Dickinson's "letters to the world" were tucked away in obscurity, thousands of other letters never meant for public eyes were being mailed across the battle lines.

The topic of Part III-B is the enduring nature of well-chosen words. The samples are from personal unpublished writings that reflect the author's understanding that the patterns of ink coming from their pen may likely be read after they are gone. The letters below were not written to us and must be opened with the solemnity of the times and circumstances that prompted them:

Perhaps the most eloquent example is the letter from Sullivan Ballou to his wife, written July 14, 1861:

My very dear Sarah:
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days.... Lest I should not be able to write you again, I feel impelled to write lines that may fall under your eye when I shall be no more....
Not my will, but thine 0 God, be done. If it is necessary that I should fall on the battlefield for my country, I am ready. … I am willing - perfectly willing - to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government….

But, my dear wife, when I know that with my own joys I lay down nearly all of yours, and replace them in this life with cares and sorrows…. my unbounded love for you, my darling wife and children, [struggles] in fierce, though useless, contest with my love of country.

I cannot describe to you my feelings on this calm summer night, when two thousand men are sleeping around me, many of them enjoying the last, perhaps, before that of death -- [as I] am communing with God, my country, and thee….

Sarah, my love for you is deathless....I have, I know, but few and small claims upon Divine Providence, but something whispers to me - perhaps it is the wafted prayer of my little Edgar -- that I shall return to my loved ones unharmed. If I do not, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you, and when my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.

Forgive my many faults, and the many pains I have caused you. How thoughtless and foolish I have oftentimes been! How gladly would I wash out with my tears every little spot upon your happiness, and struggle with all the misfortune of this world, to shield you and my children from harm. But I cannot. I must watch you from the spirit land and hover near you…and wait with sad patience till we meet to part no more.

But, O Sarah! If the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the garish day and in the darkest night -- amidst your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours - always, always; and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath; or the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah, do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.
Sullivan
Within a week, before the letter reached home, this loving husband and father was killed in battle. When time allows, read the complete story and letter here. (The photo of a letter above is from an Iowan to his family.)

Here is a letter from a Virginian on a battle field who wished to tell his wife the story of how he fell in love with her. His affections for her began when she was only eight and he was twice her age. The story unfolds with honor and propriety, and they eventually marry. Here are some letters form other Virginians. If you find these "last and lasting words" fascinating to read, this site had many more love letters from the Civil War. They do not all contain the sentiments of Sullivan Ballou, but they all reflect an urgency to be remembered through a note. They issue forth from hearts to which those who would read the words have never mattered more.
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No discussion of Civil War eloquence would be complete without touching on Abraham Lincoln. We of course know him for his Gettysburg Address, which to me is sheer poetry, and his sad farewell to his friends at Springfield, who would a few years later welcome his tall, lean frame home for burial. After reading his brief letter to Mrs. Bixby, you'll see why I have chosen to close with it.
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Lincoln’s letter to Mrs. Bixby Mrs. Bixby, Boston, Massachusetts:
DEAR MADAM: I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant-General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any words of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering to you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
Yours very sincerely and respectfully,
Abraham Lincoln
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Thank you for reading this long post through to the end. Perhaps it may inspire some bloggers to take up the lost art of letter writing on real paper to real loved ones in real time. Blogs are a good place to hone our craft and practice civility, but there is no place like paper for "lasting words" to people who need to hear them.
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I do have one more letter to share (written about 100 years after these). It's from someone famous whom you all know of, but I doubt you've ever read this letter. Rather than add to this already long reading, I'll post it Sunday evening as Part III-C.
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Until then (or in comments in between), have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Why Bloggers Blog: Part III-A

To Restore Meaning to
Throw-away Words in a Throw-away World

The comments following Part II were interesting, and I wanted to add a confession of my own before discussing the civility of 19th Century letter writing (Part III-B). In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, there was an anthrax scare on Capital Hill. All the networks were covering the evacuation, including "Your World with Neal Cavuto" on Fox News. Cavuto thought our leaders were sending the wrong signal by leaving their posts and quipped something like, “They could at least reconvene at the local Wendy’s and carry on with our nation's business.”

His insinuation of cowardice, prompted me to fire off a rebuttal to his mailbox at Foxnews.com. The hasty note ended with something like, “It’s obvious that you spend a good deal of time eating at Wendy’s. Why don’t you start broadcasting from there so you can enjoy a burger while you do the show!” Zing! I hit send, thinking some machine would read it and crank out a robotic reply. Later that night, I was shocked to get an email from Neal Cavuto himself.

He thanked me for my note and apologized that he had spoken without thought. It wasn’t his intent to second-guess people, and he admitted that his Wendy’s remark was as indefensible as mine was deserved. He even joked that if his love for Wendy's had become that obvious, he would begin a diet [and you can see that he's now slimmer.].

Mr. Cavuto's civil reply was completely disarming. I was ashamed of myself. Ashamed that I had given way to "Jerry Springerism," that flaw that makes us more eager "to get something off our chest" than "to take words to heart." Those who wish to write must do the latter, for it's only by taking words to heart that we have anything stored up to say. ( "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.")

Do you remember that scene about "zingers" in "You've Got Mail"? I felt like that and wrote back a humble apology of my own (to which his reply was equally civil). I don’t always agree with Neal Cavuto, but that night, I was honored to follow his lead on the high road.
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We live in a “throw away” world. Disposable pens, lighters, razors, and plastic ware fill the drawers of our homes. Many of our appliances and electronics have become "disposable" in that they are easier to replace than repair.

In a “throw away” world we don't have to live with things very long. Perhaps that's why we’re more inclined to use “throw away” words in chat rooms, email, text messaging, and “I-M”ing. Through electronic writing we have gained the immediacy of self expression, but we've lost the enduring sense of things we say.
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When shock jock, Don Imus, was fired last week for what became the ethnic straw that broke the camel's coarse-haired back, Newsweek reported: "For more than three decades...[Imus] had spilled countless words into the ether, many of them crude, tasteless, racially charged and inteded to insult. Most of them simply evaporated." Words that evaporate. How convenient.

Civility in writing requires an awareness that words matter. It also requires remembrance, the ability to see that our present is but our future past, and that we will live tomorrow with the words we say today. Indeed, the best and worst of words often outlive their source. Choose wisely.
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As a young student, I’d sometimes attempt to write in the style of the author I was reading. I did the same thing later as a teacher. If I was teaching Shakespeare, I’d write a sonnet and so on. While studying Edgar Allan Poe, I wrote this dramatic monologue of an old man who is visited at his death bed by the hateful words of his life. (It's a little cheezy. I was young. As Emily Dickinson would say, “Judge tenderly of me.”)

Visitors at Death Proverbs 6:2

“Back like a phantom in the night!
Without a chance to slip from sight...
you’ve caught me unaware,
and as I see you hov’ring there,
I note you’ve changed—quite for the worse—
and have come back like a chanted curse
that echoes through my soul.
You who I could not control.
You who trickled o’r my lip
and who this very tongue tip
pushed into the air
now rise so boldly there.

Well, look at me a good long look.
I’ve changed some since the glance you took
before you entered other’s ears.
I’ve changed some o’r the years.
And you knew just when to return—
just when and how hot to burn
like coals inside my head
and ring like bells to raise the dead!

Dear God, I wish I’d never learned
the words that have against me turned.
I wish I’d never learned to speak
or that I knew that words could sneak
back as these have done.
I never would have spoken one.”
© Copyright 1977, TK,Patterns of Ink
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Speaking of words that outlive those who wrote them... the forthcoming Part III-B is a fascinating read—not because I’m posted it—but because it contains many samples of writings that were not intended for us to see. It has been very moving as I've pulled it together these past few weeks. Have Kleenex handy.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Why Bloggers Blog: Part II

To Find Solace in Civility

The Latin word civitas means “community of citizens” and is the root word for city, civilize, civilization, civics, and civil (meaning “common” or “polite” or “legal,” e.g. “civil rights”). There is a related noun that describes the spirit of common courtesy that allows civitas to work: CIVILITY.

Civility is getting harder and harder to see these days. It hasn’t disappeared entirely, but never has INcivility been more marketed and modeled. From
T-shirts to bumper stickers; “talk radio” to cable TV; MSNBC to BET; comedy clubs to Capital Hill; things that once appalled
most people are
now applauded. (Depending, of course, on who says it and who takes offense.)

So Part II and III of “Why Bloggers Blog” are tributes to civility in blogging and in writing. It has been my experience that the blogosphere can be a civitas, a “community of citizens” who show remarkable civility and disarming patience toward one another.

I’m not naïve that there are vulgar, risqué blog circles out there spewing indecency and incivility, and we've all seen the rudeness of some “drive by” anonymous readers who like to throw stones as they pass rather than take time to sit on the front porch. Such things will happen wherever people are free to be themselves. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

For the most part, however, we've all met lots of folks in our corner of cyberspace that seem to understand the Civility Code of Wikipedia and the premise of an excellent book on this subject, Choosing Civility. (Read a sample chapter here.)

Exercising civility doesn’t mean we buy into every mandate of political correctness or that we don’t see the double standard of its selective enforcement. It doesn’t mean that we aren't frustrated when more “tolerance” is extended toward cross dressers than those who defend the cross. It doesn’t mean we don’t have opinions. It simply means we know the difference between respecting one’s right to hold an opinion and respecting all opinions equally. Some opinions are baseless and flawed, but most bloggers respect their readership enough to have learned how to disagree without becoming disagreeable. As I said back in June...

“Just neighbor visiting neighbor
in the kindness of the night
where differences are dimly lit
and love needs little light.”
Part II has been about the spirit of civility in blogging. Part III will look at samples of the skill of civility as seen in the lost art of letter writing—particularly 19th Century letters. Here’s the strangest use of today’s word… the letters were written during the Civil War era (including some Emily Dickinson letters). For now, I’ll close Part II with a line from her most familiar poem:

Because I could not stop for Death—
He kindly stopped for me—
The Carriage held but just Ourselves—
And Immortality. We slowly drove—
He knew no haste And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too, For His Civility....
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .[emphasis added]

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Why Bloggers Blog…. Part I

This is part one of a six-part series of posts exploring some of the reasons we bloggers blog. I'll try not to make it as obvious as serving chicken at a poultry convention, and I am especially eager to gather input from fellow bloggers on each section... so humor me.

Many of you have been blogging since the beginning of the revolution in 2002. As that article link suggests, at first most of the attention was given to the grass-roots journalism that was giving the mainstream media fits. Patterns of Ink (POI) began in an election year (2004), and many of my posts were editorial essays, but eventually blogging revived something from my past… from before blogging… before the internet… before computers. How can that be? I suspect this is true of many of the bloggers who read here.

We have more than a few things in common. We're all pretty observant, good thinkers, and friendly. I don't think that is a coincidence. Blogging is way to observe, reflect, wonder, write, share stories, form opinions, stretch views, and interact with others.

Part One's topic, however, is a common skill we've all developed through the years. When I say what it is, some of you will gasp, “That’s not me. I don’t fit that bill.” This post is about the fact that
we are all writers.

You may hasten to qualify the term, "I'm a writer in the making." Here's the good news: All writers are in the making.

I have enjoyed but struggled with writing my entire life. I once wrote a note to my teacher and closed with, “Have a grate day!” Cute, huh? Well, maybe if I hadn't been in 8th grade. Back then, I’d write a story like “The Mystery of the Cigar Store Indian” and Miss Statelier would give me an “A” for effort, characters, imagination, etc. but she'd circle dozens of misspelled words and write “Look it up” with a smiley face in the margin. I tried that. The words weren't there!

To this day, I'm a spotty speller. I talk to spellcheck like an old friend as I type. He's drawing his red line under my words this very minute. Ironically, he's telling me I've misspelled spellcheck. Evidently, Spell is his first name and Check is his middle name. Oh, well. I'm leaving it. Get over it, Pal!

The fact that midway through college, I changed my major and became a teacher would have shocked every English teacher who prodded me along the K-12 "paper trail." The fact that writing hadn't come naturally to me, helped me as a teacher for twenty years.

Writing is not easy for most people. I still struggle with it, and yet I enjoy it more and more the older I get—and the more I write. Blogging has brought the fun back to my personal writing.

If you're still not sure whether you're a blogger who writes or a writer who blogs (or an avid reader who can write well), consider the following:

If you've ever backspaced as you type to rephrase something a little better, you’re a writer.
If you’ve ever wondered if the stories of your life might actually be of interest to this world, you’re a writer.
If you’ve ever woken up to scribble down an idea for fear you’d lose it in a dream, you’re a writer.
If you look forward to the chance to sit down and flesh out your scribbled thoughts, you’re a writer.
If you’ve ever felt that what you've written was silly or hollow or overworked and that no one would ever read it, you’re a writer.
If you know that there are thousands of much better writers than you in this world, but you write anyway, you’re a writer.
If you’ve ever been motivated by the question “If I don’t write this, who will?”… you’re a writer.
If you sometimes find solace in the company of words (your own and other's) and know they have character and voice and meaning all their own, you're a writer.
If you choose words wisely knowing that you must live them and that some may live on when you are gone, you are a writer.
If you understand that clicking the "create" tab on your blog dashboard is a hint that the creativity of writing (and all the arts) is part of being "created in the image of God," you're a writer.
If you can put writing aside when none of the above feels true and know that you'll return, you’re a writer.

Oh, here's one more. You might just be a writer if you can't wait to write a post about the house full of your daughter's college friends who came for Sunday dinner and as you were getting ready to serve ice cream and brownies, a cell phone began ringing—in your freezer! Bewildered, you pulled out the ringing, vibrating popsicle only to have it nabbed from a tall blonde who says, "Oh, thanks. That's mine. I dropped it in the sink a couple weeks ago and now the screen only works when its frozen. I have three minutes to read this text message before it thaws and then I'll put it back in your freezer if that's okay?"
I can't wait to write about that. I guess I just did.

I’ve read your blogs (or will if we haven't met yet) and you are all fine writers with something to say. Most of us deliberately avoid writing about earth-shaking things. After all, there are books and books about things that have shaken the earth.

I tend to write about simple things noteworthy only in that they often go unnoticed. If I don’t write about them or if you don’t read them, it will probably make no more difference than where you pile the leaves to bag and cart away. Sometimes, though, it's good to remember the commonness of things we have in common. Everyone has something to say. Everyone has a voice.

Like the squeak of a rocker on the porch, even things that don’t much matter still belong.

Bloggers blog to write!
And that is just one of the reasons we bloggers blog.
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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Someone Else's Lifetime

This afternoon I trudged down
our curb-less street
to make sure the storm drains
were clear for the melting snow.
A chilly gust turned
my head in time to see
something blowing toward me
in the distance.
It was black and rolling
like an autumn leaf
that starts and stops at will.
I stepped gently on a corner
to claim it from the wind
and pulled it toward the bottom of my specs.

A black and brittle page
held faces looking back at me
with youthful smiles
now tattered by time
but held so close
I smelled the dusty trunk
that kept them long ago.
I knew the familiar faded tones
of glossy black-and-whites
with curled corners
in need of the pasted triangles
that pressed them flat
when the people in them cared.

I saw the holes where once a satin chord
had threaded through the pages
to be tied with tasseled knots
on the outside of a wooden cover
that took two laps to hold.
I’ve held such scrapbooks
and know the touch of such paper
that nearly breaks for turning.
I knew everything there was to know
of the musty material in my hand
but nothing of what matters most.

I stared up the street
from where the page had blown
in hopes of seeing someone there—
someone who could tell me
who were these happy graduates
from the Class of ’42.
What bound them by the elbows?
Surely someone somewhere knew.

But this was someone else’s lifetime;
these were someone else’s kin;
those were someone else’s memories
held tight again.
© Copyright 2007, Patterns of Ink

(Click to enlarge photo 1 and 3.
Date is at top of 3rd photo.)

Lingering Thoughts from above:
"Someone Else's Lifetime"

For now the scrapbook page I found in the slushy street is drying on the workbench in my garage. There’s a part of me that hates to throw it away—even though someone with presumably more attachment may have already done just that. When my wife sees it and learns that they are perfect strangers, she won’t struggle at all. I admire that about her—I really do. After all, (she'll rightly point out), I can barely keep track of my own memories, and these are not mine to tend...
but they are also not quite done with me yet.

I woke up early with these thoughts about my photo ghosts. (I don’t mean to imply that those four women and four men are no longer living—many 85-year-olds are.) I call them ghosts because their faded tones blew into my life like a wispy apparition with something still to say.

It was these young people in the Class of ’42 who two Sundays after the Thanksgiving of their senior year heard with the rest of the nation that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. They'd eventually learn that 2,403 Americans had been killed and another 1,178 wounded in that attack. Eighteen ships had been sunk or seriously damaged, while 347 planes had been destroyed or damaged. [It was a feeling we would not collectively know again until September 11, 2001.]

In the wake of the attack, Japan’s Commander-in-Chief Yamamoto (who incidentally graduated from both the U.S. Naval War College and Harvard University) was forced to observe, "I fear all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."
He was right.

The next day in his famous radio address, FDR described December 7th as “a day of infamy” and announced that were now a part of WWII. The military recruiting posts were immediately jammed and had to be open 24-hours a day to meet demand.

Perhaps most famous among those who voluntarily enlisted were the five Sullivan brothers of Waterloo, Iowa (which was my second “hometown” for 18 years). The tragic loss of those five brothers on the same ship was the story of this film and also served as the premise behind Saving Private Ryan.

The world hung in the balance as those scrapbook ghosts finished their senior year. Scroll up to the snapshot of the four smiling young men in cap and gowns; then look at these five Sullivans in Navy caps an coats. It seems to me that in that year we as a country were all bound at the elbows.

The boys of the Class of '42 were the youngest members of what Tom Brokaw called The Greatest Generation. We owe more than we can ever say to these ghosts. I just decided what to do.... I'll print out these two posts, put them with the scrapbook page in a ziplock bag and mail them to the local VFW where they may whisper to them who need most to hear ... "We remember you."
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("Back-posted" for sequential reading.)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Easter Snow

I’d like to see where robins go
when all is green until a snow
falls unexpectedly at night
and wakes them harshly to a white
and chilly cov'ring on the ground.
Where is their sanctuary found?
I'd like to think they somehow know
to seek a sturdy bough that's low
and tucked under an unseen arm,
wrapped softly round to hold off harm
and keep them until Easter’s sun
appears, and spring's again begun.
© Copyright 2007, Patterns of Ink

It's spring! In fact, this week is Spring Break here in West Michigan. Last week was beautiful with temps well into the 70's. Tuesday, I was doing light yard work out back. It was not quite 70 but felt very much like spring. Daffodils were standing tall, and Robins were everywhere. If that doesn't put a "tweedilly-tweedilly-deet..." in your heart, what will?

Then it happened. We'd been warned but hoped the weatherman was wrong. We got SNOW! Yesterday it was barely measurable. We went to bed wishing it were a dream, but this morning we woke to four inches more... just in time for Easter. Word is we'll be setting records in the Midwest, South, and East. Some of you may have gotten the chill without the snow.

When a heavy snow comes out of season like this, it throws the birds for a loop. As I was shoveling our driveway, I heard a flock of seagulls circling overhead. That's usually a sound we hear with beach towels slung over our shoulders and flip flops slapping underfoot.
It was then I noticed there was not a robin in sight. (Since many of you are not Michiganders, I should mention that the robin is our state bird.)

Where do they go? It's too soon for finished nests. Where do they wait it out? It reminded me of when Jesus assured his disciples that God looks after the sparrow, and they are even more the focus of his care. A few chapters later, wrapping up His warnings to the scribes and Pharisees, He says,"...How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings..."

This April snow will pass. New life and shelter will come with the rising of the SON. May you find sanctuary there this Easter!
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"His appearance was ... white as snow.
And...the angel said to the women,
"Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus
who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen..."
Matthew 28:3-6
"He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler."
Psalm 91:4

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