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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, May 31, 2008

Friend Survives Eye of Recent Tornado

A few weeks ago we were sharing concerns about the devastating cyclone that hit Myanmar (Burma). It’s ironic that here in the states the term cyclone is rarely used in a meteorological sense. We say “hurricane” for Atlantic-based cyclones and “tornado” or “twister” for the land-based cyclones typical of the Midwest. In the eighteen years that I lived in Iowa, the only time I heard the word cyclone was in reference to the mascot name of the Iowa State University “Cyclones.”

Last Sunday, however, northwest Iowa was hit with a twister of cyclone proportions. Worst hit was the town of Parkersburg, which was just a short drive from our home in Waterloo. Back in the Nineties I spent a few Saturday shooting weddings in this little town of less than 2,000 people. Judging by the footage in these clips, there is a good possibility the churches I worked in are no longer there.

But the clip I want to share is this story about a former co-worker, Carman Wipf, whose house disappeared before her eyes and she lived to tell about it. [It's save to download required player for this clip.]
In case, you cannot view the video, my friend went home to put down her pop-up trailer (having heard about the potential storm). When she and her friend and children arrive, a tornado sends them to the basement, but before they reach the cubby hole under the stairway, the house is lifted away like the lid of a cookie jar and they nearly go with it... then suddenly all is momentarily calm... in the eye.
Hearing them tell it is worth the time at the link.
Carman was one of those rare students who endures high school, goes to college, makes life-changing decisions, earns a teaching degree, and returns to her alma mater to teach among some who had her as a student. That takes courage. She was my daughter’s volleyball coach (and led the team to three consecutive undefeated seasons).

When I accepted my current position in Michigan, it happened to be Carmen who was the first teacher I told about the bitter-sweet move for our family. In our last year there in Iowa, Carmen and her husband built a new home in New Hartford. It’s that home that is seen (or should I say no longer seen since only the basement survived?) in the interview at this link. My former school is in the background of the interview of Carmen and her friend. Her ability to tell of this life-and-death story in such a calm matter-of-fact manner is typical of the teacher I first met some twenty-five years ago.
We will be in Waterloo, Iowa (just southeast of this storm site), next weekend for a wedding. We'll see Carmen there and ask the question I know you're all wondering: You found most of your house nearby, but did you ever find your pop-up trailer?
Here are some other related pictures of this tornado and video of the destruction.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day Eve: They Also Serve...

I know war is an ugly thing that should never be glamorized, but on Memorial Day Weekend I think it's fitting that many networks air classic war movies as reminders of the causes and casualties of human conflict and the ultimate cost of defending freedom in a broken world.

This afternoon, my wife and I watched The Pianist (not a typical War movie but a powerful reminder that art can sometimes triumph over destruction). There's another Memorial Day movie I've been drawn into several times since 1998 though it is one of the most gut-wrenching films I've ever seen: Saving Private Ryan.

In the opening scenes of that movie, there is a brief reference to the five Sullivan brothers, from Waterloo, Iowa (my family's hometown for 18 years). One of the first war movies I watched as a kid was called The Fighting Sullivans.
It was a Sunday. Dad called us upstairs to watch "Bill Kennedy's Showtime." That day's movie reminded Dad of him and his brothers, and he wanted his sons to know what it meant to "stick together." If you're unfamiliar with the story, just after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the five Sullivan brothers enlist in the Navy and insist on serving on the same ship, the USS Juneau. Ten months later, the ship is sunk and all five brothers are killed. (Siblings can no longer be on the same ship or in the same platoon, but this tragedy was the seed for the storyline of Saving Private Ryan.)

After watching the movie that day, my brothers and I went down to the toy box and dug out our authentic white sailor hats my dad gave each of us from his time in the Navy Reserves (during the Korean War). Because it was Sunday, Dad would not let us play with any toy guns, but that day he let us wear the hats.

A few weeks ago, I brought home a box of "my things" from Mom's attic, in it was that 55-year-old sailor hat with my name scrawled on it with a blue crayon.

Dad never really talked about his Navy weekends. Like most reservist of that time, he was never called into active duty. He did learn a lot of knots that came in handy and wore his Navy crew-cut for the rest of his life. Beyond that, he formed our views about war, that it was an ugly-but-sometimes necessary thing... and that out of respect for men and reverence for God, his boys would never "play it" on Sunday.
He taught us something else... how to stick together as brothers.
In that respect, John Milton was right:

"They also serve who only stand and wait."

(Kathy, if you're reading this, "brothers" includes you. =)

Monday, May 19, 2008

Same Nest... Different Birds

Ours is a smaller school with an average of 20 in each class. We're in an athletic conference of schools our size in west Michigan. Since all of our programs need everyone to participate, our students tend to be involved in everything we offer. Most of them are in varsity sports (85+%), band (85+%), choir, and over half of them have been in other events like the school play, speech contests, strings, etc.

One of the best things about overseeing a smaller school is that some old traditions like taking a Senior Trip are still possible. The "Class of 2008" is having a great time here in Destin, Florida. Today several of them are going parasailing, others are just "hanging out" at the beach or pool. Tonight the guys want to watch Game One of the Pistons vs. Celtics series (while some of the girls have dibs on another TV for the American Idol showdown between the Davids).

Julie is grocery shopping for tonight's meal. Me? I've been head cook at the back-deck grill each afternoon. (Breakfasts are "serve yourself.) Both of us are also the shuttle service to all points of interest. It's sort of a "mom and dad" thing, and we've been doing it for decades. Looks like I have an hour of free time on my hands. I thought I'd sit out on the balcony that overlooks the beach and write. (Don't worry. I've already been in swimming--and so has Julie.)

A year ago today on this very balcony, from this very Adirondack chair, I took the picture of the sparrow and nest above. I just took another picture of a what could be the same sparrow and same nest in the same corner of the same beach house.

One thing's for sure... the peeps chirping beyond my view are not the same birds I heard a year ago. It's a new batch of voices. Same nest... different birds, entitled to be listened to as if their song is new, as if the world around them has never been seen before.

In time, perhaps, they'll understand the seasons of life. They'll know their part in the patterns, the continuity, the repetition. It's possible they'll instinctively sense that it's the cycles of life and not the revolutions of the world that remind us who is in control.

By the sound of it, the nestlings are eager to take wing....
Our school's commencement exercises are a week from Friday.

[For some reason I can't upload today's new picture of the sparrow and nest.]

Monday, May 12, 2008

Past Post Posited

Please forgive this sudden shift in topic, but I was just flipping channels and found it interesting that on the eve of Hillary's victorious but moot coup de grâce in West Virginia, the Encore "Drama" channel is airing "The Hand that Rocks the Cradle" for at least the third time during this political primary season (each time when Hillary's candidacy or motives were under scrutiny).

Rather than again posit the similarities some may see between that film and Hillary's ruthless tenacity, let me simply link you to this past post about a tale of character, motives, manipulation, and the hazards of misplaced trust. I didn't watch the movie this time, but in case you missed our lively discussion last fall, here's the link again.

(Theatrically speaking, I will say that after six months of auditioning various faces, cackles, and personalities, Senator Clinton's current rendition of herself [with Bill kept off screen] is one of her more appealing characters, but like this re-run, her would-be presidency is movie I'd rather not watch.)

Here is Maureen Dowd's take on Hillary's eventual demise as a candidate.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Cyclone Path Leads to Our Hill Tribe Friends

We’ve all heard by now the tragic numbers coming out of Burma / Myanmar. I have been following this story with the same sense of helplessness that the rest of the world feels, but added to that mounting loss of human life and the frustration that the inept government in charge is too insecure and isolated to know how to accept a helping hand... I have a slightly more personal concern.

If you follow the path of that deadly cyclone, you’ll see that it reached the northeast border of Thailand.

There on this map, just under the "MAY 4" in the tip of Thailand, is where this 7-day cyclone finally dissipated. That is where we were in late January with the medical team when filming the building of this grass hut . That location is described in the opening of this interview taped just
Twelve Weeks Ago on the Myanmar Border.

It was this friend who took me to the airport when I needed to return home unexpectedly for my mother's final days. His was the last familiar face I saw until disembarking in Grand Rapids. In this interview three days before, he was explaining, in part, how the five million Akah Indians originally from China migrated south in the 19th Century to Burma, Thailand, Laos, and beyond.

In light of the tragic Cyclone news from that corner of the world, it seems strange to hear him speak of the short window of opportunity we had (before the rain season began in March) to safely travel in that mountain region. I have not heard a report, but because the hill tribes are far from sea level, I'm guessing that they may have endured only the loss of the simple thatch-roof shelters they call home.

If only the government of Myanmar was as open to outside humanitarian help as Thailand has been these past two decades.
Sad that it may have taken this deadly storm to bring about the needed changes in the land formerly known as Burma.

Here is a before and after photo of the region now submerged by water in Burma. The hill tribes our medical team works with are no where near the flooded area, but since the cyclone continued on into the northern mountains of Thailand, it is possible that the huts we saw suffered damage similar to that seen in some of the disturbing footage in the links below.
Update: Friday, May 9, 2008.
Another Friday update: Biting the hand that feeds you.
Disturbing video images in the villages hit by cyclone. More similar footage here.

May 14, 2008: Video Update from Burma one week later.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Speaking of Balloons...

“Oops! I dropped my water balloon.”

It was the innocence of the line that caught my attention as I stepped out my office door a moment ago. I was expecting to see wet carpet, but instead the unbroken balloon had been picked up and cradled safely in a young girl's hands. (She is a middle school student who shall remain nameless here.) Our eyes met. She managed a smile, but was obviously surprised to see me.

“Hmmmm… Let’s start with the easy question," I said, "Why do you have a water balloon at school?”
(I was about to take that little test common to all teachers, principals, and parents alike. It's called the “Don’t Laugh Now” test.)
“What this?" She asked. "It’s actually not a water balloon—It's an air balloon—I mean... it was an air balloon, but it was too hard to blow up—you know how some balloons are like really hard to blow up?—this one was like that… so I had to blow it up with water, but it’s not a water balloon like the kind you're thinking—We’re decorating [someone’s] locker with balloons for his birthday—don’t worry the other balloons have air in 'em—I was just coming to get some extra tape to hold this one on the locker because it’s heavy... As soon as he sees it, we’ll take this one down and I’ll break it in the sink."

She finally stopped for air and widened her eyes as if this graying principal (after 30 years of working with students) would say with enlightened relief: “Ohhhhhhh...It’s not a water balloon. It’s an air balloon with water in it—a decoration on a friend’s locker. Sounds like a fool-proof plan to me. Let's get you some more tape.”

Like I said, I could barely hold back a laugh... much less hide my smile as I said, “It’s cool that you're decorating a friend’s locker, and I appreciate your clarifying that this balloon filled with water is not a water balloon. [It was a cute little thing about the size of an oblong tennis ball.] But let’s skip the locker part and go straight to that break-it-in-the-sink part. How’s that sound?”

She flashed a "Life's good" smile and headed for the girl’s restroom.

It was five minutes to eight. The first-period bell would soon begin another day—but not just any day—this is the first day of May.

Happy May Day!
[See post below for title context.]

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