Finding at what point we exist

Bird Droppings May 31, 2010
Finding at what point we exist

Today is an ordinary day other than being one extra on a long holiday weekend. Today we celebrate Memorial Day honoring our veterans and military friends and family members that have fallen in service to our country. Over the years thinking back to high school, I did not know very many who had died in the military other than listening to my father and his stories of World War II and to us children they were stories only. As we got closer to graduation from high school several brothers of friends had been killed in Viet Nam and this special day had significantly more meaning.
As I graduated and went to college on a student deferment from the draft I was very aware of the draft in that I did not want to get drafted and go to Viet Nam. The news kept us up to date well almost, as often Viet Nam breaking news would be several days or even weeks old when we heard it. After my freshmen year and being asked not to return to college since my grades were not that great, I was drafted in the first draft lottery along with many of my fellow class mates who did not go to class perhaps enough times to satisfy professors and somehow in college passing and attendance is important. It was at this point in my life Memorial Day hit me.
I failed my draft physical which allowed me to continue searching for a school that would let me in. I moved to Texas for school a small college in Plano Texas the University of Plano which was at that time the only school that would take me. Across several states and colleges I eventually landed in Macon Georgia. I finally finished my undergraduate education and graduated from Mercer University. Along the way I lost touch on the most part of my former classmates in high school and with out the internet and cell phones I infrequently had word from my hometown on events and people. Over the year’s piece by piece word got to me of the death of this friend or that friend in Viet Nam and when all of the numbers were tallied nearly ten fellows from our graduating class or classes around us died in Viet Nam. Memorial Day was very significant now.
It was at this point in my life that Memorial Day hit home. It was several years till I was able to visit Washington DC and go to the Viet Nam memorial. I walked down so unsure of why and where I was at the time. Yes I was in Washington DC on a High School Band trip with my son but here I was looking at a wall that seemed to stretch endlessly along the pathway. I went to the registry book and found the names I recalled and the locations on the panels and wrote these on my hand with a marker. After several minutes I composed my self and walked along finding names amidst the tens of thousands on the wall.
I watched sisters, brothers, fathers and mothers touching names, dropping flowers, and standing with tears streaming down their cheeks staring at the cold black stone slab winding along a pathway. I often speak of sacred being a spot where many come to honor, pray, ponder or worship and here in Washington DC this was a sacred place. It was nearly a half an hour later my son was calling to me and I found myself sitting on a bench looking down on the wall. Our bus was ready to leave and they could not find me. So does Memorial Day hold meaning as I think back? I do not believe in war and have not for most of my life, this is a personal belief that for me is not about fearing death or dying for a cause but that it is not what is to be.
However I honor those who in their efforts and belief and have given their lives for me so I can believe in what I do and for those who have provided the opportunity for others world wide. Today is not about political or religious ideology but about people who believed in what they were doing and in that effort died for that belief. As we honor now young men and women who have died in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan it is bringing home this idea of Memorial Day to recent graduates of high schools across the nation. I wish one day the concept of war would be out dated but until that time please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

To die a happy death:

Bird Droppings May 28, 2010
To die a happy death:

I have been teaching high school now for nearly ten years and this will be tonight another graduation ceremony and celebration of sorts. I am starting my day a bit later than normal since we work late tonight due to the graduation at eight o’clock. Over the past few years I have been searching for my older thoughts editing cleaning up and often finding a dropping that ties in today with somewhere I went yesterday. Only a few days ago I got in a discussion on fearing death which led me on a search for an email and some thoughts I jotted down many years ago. Since that note nearly five years back my friend has lost loved one I have lost loved one and many around us have as well. So digging in my archives yesterday I started reading a thought from a friend who was trying to generate answers for his niece based on how do we die a happy death?
I was a bit taken back, sitting here only a few days ago not truly giving death much of a thought having the attitude when it happens it happens and for some number of years now I have lost any fear of death. It has been some time since I realized we need to live each day it isn’t about death and what is next it is about what is now and where are we on our own journey. It is not about anyone else’s, though we constantly interact and intertwine in my own cosmic sort of jig saw puzzle of explaining life. I had several answers to share and from a mixed bag of intellectuals across the country when I responded to my friends note. I used to sit in Geometry in tenth grade with the first responder and her thought was this.

“A contented life. One that has (at least partially) fulfilled personal dreams. “ 5/28/06 – A child psychologist From California

As I thought about it dreams and aspirations are at the center of many of our hearts and souls. I have always wanted to go to Tahiti however I probably never will for one reason or another. It all goes back to my first reading of a Michener book “Hawaii” and how the original settlers sailed from Tahiti. In y romanticism I know it is not the tropical paradise I dream of and I will probably settle for South Florida and Sanibel Island which today would be fine. My next responder is a mom and teacher from Texas that I have met and known for eight or ten years from correspondence.

“I, personally, have always told myself that there is a difference between three powerful things: 1) mistakes learned from, 2) regret, and 3) a higher God that leaves certain things out of my control (thank goodness)…but anyway, ideally, I want to die having learned from my mistakes, having passed control over in areas of my life in which I have no control, and to die without regret. These are the three potentially negative “things” that will, even during my life, make me lose sleep. All in all…if we could live surrounded by love, and die surrounded by love (which will happen, of course, if we give just as much)…that would be a happy death.” 5/28/06 – A teacher in Texas

I have read and reread this one several times and always her comments are deep and heart felt, “Having learned from my mistakes” this is a life lesson many should heed. Often even within the past few days I have addressed this with several students take and learn from your mistakes and move forward and or backward as a good friend would say direction is not the key but movement and in our world of multiple dimensions it could be any where. My mother responded next to the question and this was a year before my father passed away. Sort of interesting when your mom is an avid reader of your essays and thoughts as I am of her poetry and writing.

“Living a life that is fruitful and true makes for a happy death. Like your father has said many times, there is nothing in this world that he still wants to do. He has been there, done it and seen it and he always did it with love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control as his companions.” 5/28/06, My mom Esther S. Bird, author, poet and great grand mother from Loganville, Georgia

My father at that time was eighty four and had been all over the world teaching about Loss Control and Safety Management. In South Africa a headline once proclaimed he had saved millions of lives in the South African mines. Great Britain proclaimed him the Billy Graham of Safety in news headlines. My dad started out to be a medical missionary and I was the culprit that sent him to the steel mills for work. As a baby I was very ill and hospitalized numerous times with seizures and a stoppage of breathing. My dad had to go to work instead of school. By chance he found good paying work in the open hearth of Lukens Steel Mill and until they needed a Safety guy with a college diploma he was a brick layer in the open hearth. He was offered a job as a Safety man which being nonunion was less pay but it was better hours he thought and an office no more twenty eight hundred degree furnaces to contend with.
Shortly thereafter his first book changed modern Safety Management, in the early 1960’s. In 1965 he coined the registered statement of “Total Loss Control” and the rest is history. So instead of saving souls in Africa in a mission hospital he was saving lives world wide through his programs and insights. I began reading the next responders poems several months ago and now several hundred later find them exhilarating.

“For me, the idea of a happy death is one where I’ve given my best effort, stayed current with conflict resolution and being in the right place in my God’s eyes.” 5/29/06 Poet from Puget Sound, Washington

I have come to read daily numerous blogs and poems posted by this wonderful person she herself has many life hindering illnesses and still features a giant smiley face as her calling card. She is such a powerful human spirit. I will end today with another responder on a regular basis one who thinks far deeper than most teenagers and surprises me with responses that go far beyond her few years of experience. Today she is a karate instructor in Georgia and I would never have guessed that five years ago.

“I also enjoyed your droppings earlier about a happy death. I like to think of it this way, ‘Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you will be criticized either way.’ Eleanor Roosevelt” 5/29/06, High School student in Loganville, Georgia

I was wondering with all the death in the news here and abroad is death ever happy. Yesterday I read a blog from a young fellow in the army and the remembrance of a buddy killed a few days earlier in Iraq. Someone posted a series of crosses on a back country road where three teenagers a few years back hit a tree at a hundred miles an hour. I have attended many funerals over the years and often will do my best to avoid them if I can. I have in recent years been to my fathers, father in laws, several students, friends and other family member’s memorials. When I listen to the comments of joy that of celebrating a life rather than mourning death it is so different. It is so difficult to lose someone but what if they have done what is it they were intended to do and know that. What if they were happy and knew there was meaning to their life? I recall a death some seven eight years ago where a young man came to me the last time I saw him aware of his surroundings, for I did hold his hand through the night watching monitors blink showing his brain functioning was going and irreversible. I sat and did last rights in my own way as I was holding his hand though there was no movement from him or acknowledgement only monitors blinking and the respirators movement in his lungs.
At my last meeting with this young man he shook my hand and said not this time Mr. Bird. Normally he would extend his hand and pull it away laughing a joke on me. This time was different as he extended his hand smiling grasping with his other hand mine and saying thank you for everything and we parted ways he was riding in another car going home from a day of tubing in North Georgia. I never spoke with him again. I know to the marrow of my bones he was happy in death. He was always happy go lucky always joking always the life of the party he was the group clown. When we gathered after the funeral each of said something similar he had said goodbye to us each in a different way. That night my son left a yellow sticky note for me on my computer that I shall never forget.

“Life is about the journey not the destination” Steven Tyler Aerosmith

I have thought about that note daily every day since, I have listened to the Aerosmith CD version of Awesome many hundreds of times for that line. Somewhere in a box I still have that yellow sticky note over ten years old now folded away as a reminder about how precious each second is. We honor our veterans on Monday and those who died to provide us with ideas and thoughts about freedom and liberty over the years. I would like to end with, what if we could have world peace? What if, always a what if it seems please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Storms at night

Bird Droppings May 27, 2010
Storms at night

I wish storms had a better scheduling manager at times while it looked at times last night that a storm was imminent it never came. I had gone out to bring the dog in and clouds were swirling around a nearly full moon providing quite a view for me as I wandered about the back yard. Our dog will bark, howl, and holler when storms come through even when I do not here them. Last night was no exception we had a severe storm front pass through earlier knocking out power in a few areas further south after dinner and then about 3:30 AM another front came through and my dog made sure we knew.
Today is the official last day for students and then Friday is graduation day for seniors. It is always hard to turn lose from kids many of these students I have watched grow up some I have never met since I am isolated in my closet on C Hall. Some are dear friends and like previous classes will show up as did a former student or two yesterday. I had not seen her since she quit school nearly four years ago to have a baby but she is doing fine and working on finishing school and moving on in her life. So many daily pieces to fit in place, some are simple and others more profound and complicated. As I read notes and ideas from previous thoughts and review the direction I am going today it always amazes me how within each idea each thought we tend to learn.
“To perceive a friend, therefore, is necessarily in a manner to perceive oneself, and to know a friend is in a manner to know oneself. The excellent person is related to his friend in the same way as he is related to himself, since a friend is another himself.” Susan Stern-Gillet
This last day of school for so many and if I recall often never to see many of them again as they disappear into humanities wastelands, colleges and society. Friendship is bantered about quite a bit as yearbooks are signed and people are hugged and congratulations are made and then off into the abyss of culture and societal duty.
“Let this, then, be laid down as the first law of friendship, that we should ask from friends, and do for friends’, only what is good. But do not let us wait to be asked either: let there be ever an eager readiness, and an absence of hesitation. Let us have the courage to give advice with candor. In friendship, let the influence of friends who give good advice be paramount; and let this influence be used to enforce advice not only in plain-spoken terms, but sometimes, if the case demands it, with sharpness; and when so used, let it be obeyed.” Cicero
I was reading a students yearbook when it hit me how you can tell so much about a person by what random people write in others yearbooks. Dear so and so have a great summer BFA love always, so and so and so. One yearbook I read every note was similar as if no one knew this student. Not a single personal note it struck me as odd. Others go over board with cell numbers and school addresses there are those children whose parents have financed apartments and such away at school for their little darlings for their college experiences.
“In our own time Friendship arises in the same way. For us of course the shared activity and therefore the companionship on which Friendship supervenes will not often be a bodily one like hunting or fighting. It may be a common religion, common studies, a common profession, even a common recreation. All who share it will be our companions, but one or two or three who share something more will be our Friends. In this kind of love, as Emerson said, do you love me? Means do you see the same truth? – Or at least, ‘Do you care about the same truth?’ The man, who agrees with us that some question, little regarded by others, is of great importance, can be our Friend. He need not agree with us about the answer.” C. S. Lewis
The great theologian, scholar and author’s idea of friendship is very akin to what many teenagers consider friends. It might just be current acquaintances who have similar interests and understandings and literally many do become friends. Computers have made friendship the press of a button as MySpace or facebook friend requests are simply a click away. One of my favorite recent emails was click this link for a thousand friends. So simple to have friends click a link and poof magically friends appear. I think Lewis wanted a bit more meat, maybe a bit more serious understanding and knowledge out there of who you speak.
“The middle class pattern of friendship formation is quite clear and essentially the dominant one in terms of what friendship is taken to mean. Essentially when people are met who are liked, the common pattern is for the relationship to be developed by extending its boundaries through involving the other person in other social contexts… The use of the home for entertaining is particularly significant….” Grahm Allen
As I read and researched friendship I found a developmental scale just my thing, sort of interesting as I think there is something to say for devlopmentalists. Piaget had some issues with his use of his own kids but his ideas and thoughts have given rise to some better ideas.
“As the past few weeks have shown, we are not the selfish, atomized individuals of modern media myth. But the government would like us to think we are.” Ray Pahl
Ray Pahl was a visiting professor at the Institute for Social and Economic Research, The University of Essex. He has numerous articles and books to his credit. Pahl has come up with in his book “Friendship”, this simple developmental scale.
Aged 3-4 Children start to use the term ‘friend’ to describe playmates
Aged 4-7 Children start to appreciate that own views and identity is different from others
Aged 6-12 Children start to be able to ‘put themselves in other peoples’ shoes’.
Aged 9-15 Children/young people are able to take on the perspective of a ‘third person’; to look at interactions and, thus, to work on relationships.
Aged 12+ There is recognition that individual friendship is part of a larger network of relationships – and that friends are linked with others in ‘personal communities’.
As I think to my own childhood friends it is so easy to use anyone with whom we play then is a friend. We then learn to adjust and limit friendship and friends and we are taught to not talk to strangers and to avoid friendship often many times. Relationships are too complicated I heard that this yesterday morning at school. Funny how a few words or a few comments and even a few read statements can change friend from someone you play with to a stranger and or back, all in a few years according to this scale.
I have three statues that my wife has given me over the years. Each of these is of a little child. One is standing holding his coat tight from the cold, another a little girl holding a kitten looking up and the other one is holding a Tonka truck just looking ahead. Children have such a simple life and we adults gunk it up. Maybe we should ban anyone over eight years old from existence. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Cultivating the inner self

Bird Droppings May 26, 2010
Cultivating the inner self

“If people find no room in their lives to pray or to meditate, to reflect deeply on why they have been created and what they must do with their lives, and to listen with all of their being to the guidance of the universe, then these people are like birds who have not yet learned to fly. All the parts of the bird are present, but something is still missing. To be a whole person is to be alive in a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual way.” The Sacred Tree, The Four Worlds Development Project, 1984

I started reading this short book several days ago, only absorbing a page or two a day not trying to force my read as I do so often and get through it in a matter of minutes. There is an under lying theme with the tree of life so often depicted in primitive traditions. In Native American thought the tree intertwines spiritually and physically with all. Many times in ceremonies a specific tree would be selected after much thought by a medicine man or woman for the occasion. It would be carefully taken down and then “replanted” at the site of the ritual. Sundance ceremonies always would center around a tree as the main focal point of the entire ceremony. I could not help but think of the latest James Cameron movie Avatar and the depiction of the tree that is connected to all on the planet. In my own life my early mornings are to sit read and write for me a mediation of sorts. When I can if time allows although that does not sound good I will wander out into the darkness to think and reflect. Listening and watching as around me life unfolds. For many being alone in the dark is not a comfortable event but as I have now for some time embraced the solitude and quiet.

“A sign that much work is needed in the area of personal spiritual growth is when a person dislikes being alone, and especially dislikes being alone in silence. Many people use television and or recorded music to fill the silence so do not have to experience themselves as they are.” The Sacred Tree, The Four Worlds Development Project, 1984

Years ago I would walk out into the early morning’s darkness all about me wandering a blanket wrapped about me, thinking and reflecting on things at hand. I found as I was searching I found peace in the solitude and quiet of the early hours. As we moved over the years and my ability to walk around became hindered I started to write and read and reflect as I would sit and ponder. I started writing down my ideas and thoughts and sharing with others. I found in each of my mornings notes; an idea was there for someone. Today as we near a full moon and the night is bright with the moons reflection of the sun perhaps speaking of darkness at night is a bit odd but always I have found within darkness there is light when we seek it. So in effect in my solitude I have found community. It has been a few years since a dear friend shared with me and helped me remember a poet and philosopher of life that I had forgotten so many years ago.

“Walk easy on the earth each life has its own fragile rhythm, to be aware of it is to understand, to ignore is to abandon oneself to sadness. It is to search vainly for the wholeness that only comes in surrender to what is.” James Kavanaugh, Quiet Water, 1991

James Kavanaugh passed away a few months back and his works will continue to inspire and awaken emotions in people for many years ahead. There is a spiritual aspect to his writing as he reflects on his own former priesthood in many of his writings. But he also separates from religion that spiritual context that is within each of us. It is that individuality and uniqueness that gives us the essence of who we are and provides us with a desire to continue existence.

“Existing is one thing, but making a purpose for your existence is another.” Kendall Gomez, neighbor, former LHS student, California University Student, friend, and often philosophy genius

Kendall is one of the few who is up when I get up each morning although she is a country away in California. Many the day Kendall would come by my room at school and talk and even visited a few times after she graduated. She moved into our neighborhood several years ago and it was interesting neither of us knew we were neighbors for nearly a year. Granted she is a half mile away from our house if that would still be a neighbor. As I read her post this morning and one of her responses, that her purpose was to come up with riddles for others to solve, it sort of hit me. Perhaps it is “more better” stated that we find our purpose through our existence and may even find ourselves in that effort.

“Another sign that warns the traveler that his heart is empty of the gifts of the west is when a person does not feel respect for the elders or for the spiritual activities and struggles of other people.” The Sacred Tree, The Four Worlds Development Project, 1984

We live in a world so interconnected to each other and yet so disjunctive as well. So many of our interactions that fail and go by the wayside are due to inadvertent differences of opinions, distrust and differences of beliefs than to any other rationales. I recall sitting down so many years ago with a man who was very much a man of faith. He was devout in his beliefs and staunch in his moral codes and ethics. We sat down in a small restaurant in town to discuss a program I had envisioned working with indigent families and people. As a prop knowing this fellow I had brought a bible along. Several verses were marked dealing with helping others and providing for those in need. I did not indicate to this man another religious connection of any sort and almost immediately as we talked he mentioned that Catholics were not Christian. My hand rested atop a Catholic bible. I found it interesting that within his desire to do good and help people was still this animosity for another person he had no idea of any connection to any church or religious affiliation for me other than a Methodist Church I was previously involved with working with high school students. He knew I attended a Methodist Seminary along the way. So already we in some ways were opposed semantically because he found one denomination was wrong and one was right yet both evolved from the same traditions and history. We started a program Shepherd Staff Ministries and up until I left that program over ten years ago we never disagreed on anything and he is still involved on the board of directors. People were served in our community with food lodging and counseling.
“Poverty is not merely a matter of not having ‘things’. It is an attitude which leads us to renounce some of the advantages which come from the use of things. A man can possess nothing, but attach great importance to the personal satisfaction and enjoyment he wants to get out of things which are common to all.” Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, 1956

As I was selecting passages today I was drawn to both Kavanaugh and Merton were Catholic clergy at one time or another in their lives. Kavanaugh had a falling out as he wrote about an outdated church and left the priesthood. Thomas Merton wrote out against war in a time when such things were not often politically correct and died suspiciously in Southeast Asia electrocuted in a bath tub protesting the War in Viet Nam. Merton was a Trappist monk till his death. When you read these two authors there ideas do flow and interconnect with those of the Native American concept of a world interconnected I started with. Merton often wrote about and was well versed in Eastern thought seeing a connection between all that was. While Kavanaugh in his poetry wrote of the world almost as if he were a piece in a vast puzzle a part of the whole.

“Thus I am certain that somehow life will never end, because the assemblage of my friends and all the beauty of the world I have known, assures me that in some state, I must have a life of love to say what I feared to say on earth. To give what I tried to give and couldn’t and to thank you with all of me, when gratitude never seemed sufficient. I long to release all hurts and manipulations, any selfish expectation when pain and suffering got in the way of love and forgiveness, when age and self pity interfered, or when my ignorance and arrogance prevented what I longed to reveal and share. When I realized I’d done the best I could with what I had from the past, when it was apparent that for one as good and fine and loving as you are: A lifetime isn’t long enough to love you.” James Kavanaugh, A lifetime isn’t long enough to love you, 1996

We of this modern era somehow get lost in all that is. We want to categorize and sanitize and package seemingly undefinable ideas and thoughts. We want to be able to research and develop vaccines to cure and control all that is around us. We lose our connections. I was talking with a fellow teacher yesterday a very good friend who has served for nearly twenty five years active and in the reserves with our military. He has been in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in most areas of conflict in the past twenty years. He has seen death and destruction at the hands and minds of men. We often talk about life in general and while he knows my own believes and perhaps his might differ we often find common ground. I bumped into him on my way to check on a student and we talked. I had an article I had been meaning to bring to him as he teachers history. It is a National Geographic article about a tribe in Africa that is one of the last known hunter gatherer societies left on the earth. What is amazing to anthropologists is that there is no strive, stress, animosity within these people. There are not items of desire or to covet. If you need a bow and arrows you make one. If you need meat you hunt and fruit you gather. As we talked I recalled another friend’s virtual game in history of having students develop society from nothing and how it is not until as humans we begin to own things that strive and turmoil appears.
“We live in a whirl of images and noises, sounds, lights, desires, frustrations, pleasures, sufferings. Our lives are a cacophony; insulated from wind and rain and sun, from heat and cold, we are ensphered in our own catacombs of concrete and plastic. Living in such a world is it any wonder we turn to drugs, to more sensational means of stimulation, to entertainment that renders us catatonic? Insulated from nature, ungrounded, why should we be surprised at our own brutality? Where in such a world is there room for gratitude and for what should we be grateful?” Arthur Versluis, Sacred Earth, the spiritual landscape of Native America

I am getting carried away this morning but so often an idea starts and perhaps today I need to draw to a close and continue another day. My dog is barking calling to go out and now back in the moon has set and gone behind the pines and only the stars remain to light the sky. To my right as I walked out our drive way and cars and to the left pines and darkness a seemingly distant world untouched and real. To borrow another line from Versluis as he discusses primitive peoples ideas and views.

“There is, however a mysterious unity between people and their landscape, between people and the creatures around them. This unity is of a subtle kind not easily explained. But understanding it is essential if we are to enter into a different awareness of our world” Arthur Versluis, Sacred Earth, the spiritual landscape of Native America

Another day is near dawning and another day heading to school for finals and to finish up the school year. For all of my students and teacher friends may peace be with you and yours and may we as a nation find some point of reference to draw us together. For ten years now I have ended my morning sojourns with this line, please keep all in harms way on your minds and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Looking at lyrics from an old friend

Bird Droppings May 25, 2010
Looking at lyrics from an old friend

I first started listening to Neil Young’s music in 1967 or so possibly even earlier if you count Buffalo Springfield, a short lived band and of course 1968 with Crosby Stills and Nash at Woodstock. While I did not make it to Woodstock I can say my old sleeping bag was there, a good friend at the time borrowed it. When I made my way south into the land of The Allman Brothers band, in the fall of 1971, the flower petals were still in the streets from Dwayne Allman’s funeral a month past, music and lyrics had become a part of who I was.
I was reading on line last night, a friend on line lists the songs of Neil Young on her website. I responded to her with a note that I did not think any one under forty had ever heard of Neil Young. Several years ago Neil Young had a medical crisis and a sort of mid life crisis all about the same time. After finding he had an aneurysm in his brain Neil Young in a few days turned out what he was afraid might be his last CD. He took it upon himself from being warned he needed surgery and postponing the actual surgery for a week to write and produce an entire CD, Prairie Wind. A few days after leaving the hospital from successful surgery on the brain aneurism, the spot on his leg where the catheter had been inserted broke open and he collapsed outside his hotel, nearly dying from blood loss.
The words to this song caught my attention this morning, a questioning of who and why we are. Several of my friends and I have been discussing free choice and feel will in our blogs and on line discussions which perhaps led me to this today. The title of the song is, When God made me, by Neil Young.

“Was he thinkin’ about my country or the color of my skin? Was he thinkin’ ’bout my religion and the way I worshipped him? Did he create just me in his image or every living thing? Was he planning only for believers or for those who just have faith? Did he envision all the wars that were fought in his name? Did he say there was only one way to be close to him? Did he give me the gift of love to say who I could choose? Did he give me the gift of voice so some could silence me? Did he give me the gift of vision not knowing what I might see? Did he give me the gift of compassion to help my fellow man?” Neil young, When God made me, Prairie Wind

I walked out into the stillness of the morning earlier today. There was a lone bird I think had gotten mixed up on its timing (I wonder does anyone give the daylight savings time to nature). Maybe the bird was still adjusting or maybe migrating in from another time zone, but here nearby singing all alone deep in the woods. I like days when the moon casts light through the spring trees, a hint of green and the lace work of twigs and opening buds provide a background for thought, everything smells and sounds so new in spring.
Thinking ahead to coming back to school after a break it always amazes me. More than half the students will have T-shirts from Panama City Florida air brushed with boy friend names and or girl friend names and various partying information and or connotations maybe parents should not know about, and of course tan. There will be a lot of shell jewelry and then there is the other half still asleep from staying in bed till one or two and having a hard time readjusting to school hours, with their puffy eyes and dozing off during the day.
It is so difficult to get started the day after a two week break. I offered to an administrator why not start back on a Tuesday instead of Monday and we both agreed we could have slept in as well.

“Did he give me the gift of compassion to help my fellow man?”

Funny, how a line sticks with you in a song or poem or book. I keep thinking about this line yesterday. Between oil spills, getting tough on North Korea and as always the breaking news was a leak from Washington; we were going to attack Iran after we try diplomacy again. I wonder if the word compassion ever made it into Washington. I was walking through a Wal-Mart sort of the entire world at a glance; everyone ends up in Wal-Mart. One of students came in he was all excited he had just gotten a job there. But as I walked through a Wal-Mart employee near the pharmacy was explaining the new Medicare drug plan to an elderly person. They actually had a booth set up with a fulltime staff person. They are to be helping elderly folks and they need to have people telling them what is going on since most people including myself haven’t a clue. Ironic and they wonder why so many people haven’t joined up yet the line is too long at the explanation booth.
Compassion is such a simple word. It has been several years since I did work with indigents work finding housing and food for families. I recall several bits of wisdom coming from Washington, for example cutting off welfare if a person was not looking for a job. A favorite is if you fail a drug test no more welfare. If you are homeless by choice you are off of welfare, that one sort of floored me. It had to do with issues of not paying taxes by one person somewhere in Texas who found he could save money being homeless. Another was if income was too high cut out Medicaid.
Cutting health care was always one that intrigued me. I worked with a fellow who had worked all his life till a massive heart attack disabled him and he was limited to drawing disability. His wife due to illnesses all of her life had never worked enough quarters to draw anything more than a minimum disability check. I find it so interesting that anyone can even consider we do not need health care reform. Unfortunately between them their medical bills exceeded their monthly government disability checks and because their income exceeded federal standards they did not get Medicaid. In a compromise they took turns each month on which medicines to not get. They were getting help from one agency but doctors had to fill in paper work literally volumes each month for them to receive free medicines. Sadly eventually the doctor’s office stopped filling in the paperwork for them. Compassion is such a powerful word.
What of a disabled man I worked with for several years who lived on about 350.00 per week. He is a severe diabetic and has numerous other health related issues and virtually spends a week in the hospital a month. However his monthly disability income keeps him from Medicaid and so he moves periodically to avoid harassment and bill collectors from hospitals. Having a quality of life is that compassion? Are we helping our fellow man? As I watch what we do world wide as a nation I seriously wonder sometimes. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird

Searching for knowledge

Bird Droppings May 24, 2010
Searching for knowledge

“All things in the world are two. In our minds we are two, good and evil. With our eyes we see two things, things that are fair and things that are ugly…. We have the right hand that strikes and makes for evil, and we have the left hand full of kindness, near the heart. One foot may lead us to an evil way; the other foot may lead us to a good. So are all things two, all two.” Eagle Chief, (Letakos-Lesa), Pawnee

Dr. Michael T. Garrett, professor, author, counselor, and one of the spiritual leaders and elders of the Cherokees of North Carolina writes about the theory of opposites and how in Native American belief there is always an opposite to contrast and compare the other too. This also ties into circle of life that runs through this philosophy. Almost as a compass has opposing points within its circle life has its opposite aspects. Black and white, north and south, east and west, love and hate, wet and dry and the list continues on as we need each to understand and appreciate the circle of life. As I sat reading and writing the past few days primarily on various Native American philosophies and understandings I noticed that the main methodology of conveying of this knowledge had been word of mouth down through time. Within a given tribe or family group knowledge was past from elder to child.
Continuing that idea further in today’s world how do we as teachers who in the now are considered to be the main purveyors of this transfer and parents convey knowledge to our students and children? It could be said that by following the established curriculum guides and maps and doing what is expected of a high school student you will learn this material. I think my frustration comes when students do not want to learn. I get very frustrated when I hear statements such as I know enough to get along in this world already or know enough about this subject. I think my favorite is why do I need this anyhow? It has been nearly ten years since I first met Frances Friedman at Loganville High School.

“I do believe that with some students, if they are not ready, learning cannot occur. But I worry that some students aren’t ready because they are not aware of the full table that is set. There is rejection without knowledge. I think the challenge may be to try to get them to the full table and then let them decide.” Frances Friedman

I have been sitting here thinking about this email from a dear friend for several minutes, pondering and reflecting. What if we do not provide enough information to a student? I spend much of my day doing academic support with emotionally disturbed students. Many times I will hear from students the teacher never taught us that. Trying to keep both sides in perspective I will discuss with the students teacher and with the student and work out a compromise of sorts, often just buying a bit of time. However often there can be learning curves on both ends especially with special needs students.

“There is rejection without knowledge” Frances Friedman

“Knowledge is that which, next to virtue, truly raises one person above another.” Joseph Addison

I have always been fascinated with information. It made my day when several years back the game Trivial Pursuit came out and became a big hit tiny bits of information questioned and answered. On TV the show Jeopardy is still a popular game watched around the world and it was here where a few years back Ken Jennings won over two million dollars with bits and pieces of information. He defeated opponents by answering over two thousand seven hundred questions correctly. It has been a few years since the final episode of his wining streak aired and no one has equaled his feat.

“Be curious always! For knowledge will not acquire you: you must acquire it.” Sadie Black

“I think knowing what you cannot do is more important than knowing what you can.” Lucille Ball

We have to encourage active participation in students. We have to try and instill a curiosity and not set limits and parameters on learning. Far too often in today’s standards based curriculum there is a preapproved package of information that is taught because this is what is on the end of course test that we all have to pass. Anything else is superfilous. If students do not know something, then we should provide the means, the pathway, so that they can learn. Knowing where to find an answer can be as meaningful in the life of a student as the knowledge of that answer.

“It is not good to know more unless we do more with what we already know.” R.K. Bergethon

“Knowledge is like money: the more he gets, the more he craves.” Josh Billings

Trying to keep learners learning is the key to great teaching. It is about making learning something students want and need. I would borrow from a friend who teaches high school and teaches in Pennsylvania, “Make learning fun”.

“To me the charm of an encyclopedia is that it knows and I needn’t.” Francis Yeats Brown

“Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.” Sandra Carey

When I was in second grade we got our first set of World Book encyclopedias. I thought I was in heaven and literally began reading the books cover to cover. My mother told my sons recently that I would go to bed with a World Book under my arm. As I now sit and remember minute details of the ancient past and try to instill knowledge to young folks, it is not to go read the entire encyclopedia but it is, in which room and on what shelve they are located. With modern technology it is now about what and how to find information on the internet. Knowing where things are is really more important than knowing every single fact, although the facts help. We in education get into a content and context sort of disagreement. Some teachers want to teach only content and others believe that context is the motivating force. It is true however that for information or knowledge to be useful and coherent, it has to have context.

“It is not the quantity but the quality of knowledge which determines the mind’s dignity.” William Ellery Channing

“Knowledge of the world can only to be acquired in the world, and not in a closet.” Lord Chesterfield

We have to provide the venues and pathways to information, and to acquire knowledge, Ms. Friedman stated in the first quote. Students have to have access to the table. If we set a wonderful feast before them and don’t allow access to the table, of what good is all that is there. They will still starve.

“The essence of knowledge is, having it, to apply it; not having it, to confess your ignorance.” Confucius

“Knowledge, a rude unprofitable mass, the mere materials with which wisdom builds, till smoothed and squared and fitted to its place, does but encumber whom it seems to enrich. Knowledge is proud that he has learned so much; wisdom is humble that he knows no more.” William Cowper

Can there ever be enough knowledge? Should we ever limit what knowledge is available? In 1956 the great theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote this simple prayer as part of one of his sermons.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Reinhold Niebuhr

For many years that simple philosophy written on a card has been laying on my desk. I recall a scene from a movie; most folks will not remember one of my favorite films of all time, “Billy Jack” where this prayer is used. Imagine a school or society where we lived what Niebuhr taught in his prayer. What if we applied serenity, courage and wisdom to our lives daily? Today we are challenged by which way to go and why. Thinking back many years to an old movie “Indiana Jones and The last Crusade”, “choose wisely” the old knight told Indiana Jones and he did. It is about teaching our students and children to choose wisely in life and in learning. Today is the last Monday of another year of school. On Friday we will graduate our seniors to go out into life and hopefully many will continue to learn to seek knowledge and understanding. Some will stop learning and simply exist finding jobs that pay enough to survive and function. It saddens me when I think of how limiting some people’s view of life is.
As I read various postings earlier on Facebook, a former student wrote about dreaming about what if you knew you could never fail at what you did. I responded that it would make all of your effort less and of a lesser quality. Knowing you can fail is what drives us to succeed and accomplish our tasks in life. I go back to my starting quote.

“All things in the world are two. In our minds we are two, good and evil. With our eyes we see two things, things that are fair and things that are ugly…. We have the right hand that strikes and makes for evil, and we have the left hand full of kindness, near the heart. One foot may lead us to an evil way; the other foot may lead us to a good. So are all things two, all two.” Eagle Chief, (Letakos-Lesa), Pawnee

In life it is about balance, we need failure to provide guidance and leverage for success. We need understanding to counter balance ignorance. We need on each side of the circle an opposite to provide the continuity that drives the life force of this reality. As I hear of death and illness there are new lives being brought into this world there are those being cured for everyone being found in sickness? How we cope with and deal with each aspect is with knowledge and understanding. I walk out into the darkness without fear knowing that soon light will permeate the dark. A dear friend’s father in law passed away and several I have known for years have in recent days been imposed the task of dealing with cancer. I end each morning with please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts. Today so many here right beside are in need of support and concern. Keep each one with you as you go about your day.
namaste
bird

Innocence

Bird Droppings May 23, 2010
Innocence

“Look at children. Of course they may quarrel, but generally speaking they do not harbor ill feelings as much or as long as adults do. Most adults have the advantage of education over children, but what is the use of an education if they show a big smile while hiding negative feelings deep inside? Children don’t usually act in such a manner. If they feel angry with someone, they express it, and then it is finished. They can still play with that person the following day.” the Dalai Lama, “Imagine All The People”

It has been a quite a few nights since my wife and I had a chance to go out together. I was thinking back to one evening as we sat down at our booth at a country restaurant, an elderly couple carefully made their way to the adjacent booth. Both the husband and wife helped each other moving ever so slowly. After his wife had seated herself the husband went and fixed a plate at the buffet for her. When he returned to the table my wife happened to glance over and the woman was smiling as her husband came back to their table. My wife said “she looked like a child”, her child was coming out as she smiled.
Several years ago, for a class in human development, I developed a chart on the development of faith and trust. I had been reading a book by James Fowler on the development of faith. It was interesting as I read and saw correlations of various concepts to other educational devlopmentalists such as Piaget, Erickson and even Freud.

“When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.” John Ruskin

When I read the passage from the Dalai Lama I was reminded of a stage I wrote about in my subsequent paper, learned trust. Children when they are born inherently trust, I called it, a Universal trust. A baby instinctively trusts as it survives by literally instinctual trust and behavior, sucking reflexes only require milk to satisfy. A bitter taste and the baby would soon withdraw. The baby would learn to not suck. A simple example that as the child grows becomes more complex. Each new facet of life requires new information and understanding and soon a child learns trust. We go from an instinctual universal trust to a learned trust.

“Who would not rather trust and be deceived?” Eliza Cook

Quite a few Sunday night’s back, I delivered my youngest son to a local restaurant where the Early Learners were having their Christmas banquet. Our high school has a group of fifteen or so, four year olds, under the supervision of a lead teacher involved in teaching Early Childhood Education. Actually this is a technical class in our school, an experimental school in some ways a teaching school for high school students. Many of the little learners are children of teachers within our high school.

“You may be deceived if you trust too much, but you will live in torment if you don’t trust enough.” Frank Crane

It seems my son had been Santa Claus for two years for the little learners. Matt inherited my fathers Santa suit. Dad, for as long as I can remember, has been Santa for our family. I recall a night in Modena Pa., Santa came through the fire escape window when I was four years old. This image is still vivid in my mind and many things are not as I get older. I check my driver’s license for name and address periodically.
For one reason or another Matt had to wait, which meant sitting in the waiting area of the restaurant. Little children came through, some would hide behind their parents, and others would go up and sit beside him and or ask him questions. Each child was unique.

“No, I don’t understand my husband’s theory of relativity, but I know my husband, and I know he can be trusted.” Elsa Einstein

“Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

When Matt finally went into the Christmas party each child came up to him and I would take a photo. There was no questioning of whom this was, it was Santa. After all of the little learners came up, the teenagers, high school girls came and sat in Matt’s lap. Now I know why Matt did this each year. But within the context of these moments, trust was adamant. Children have learned to believe in, or not, Santa Claus, that is not an instinctual event.

“Woe to the man whose heart has not learned while young to hope, to love — and to put its trust in life.” Joseph Conrad

So often we take the innocence of children and convert it to the learned ways of adulthood, greed, envy and all the other influences of mankind are learned. But I have found in life’s journey that trust does begin to filter back as time and age goes on. Thinking back to dinner with my wife and how she noticed the elderly woman’s smile, sometimes is it the glint in an eye or a smile from an elderly person that shows the inner child is still there. Perhaps it is that untouched innocence and universal trust has returned, or maybe like me, you forget all else, that you have learned not to trust. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.
namaste
bird