Monday, June 30, 2014

Neither a jelly donut nor a womanizer be

Beyond the steady babble  and the occasional expletives that spewed from my often-unbridled tongue as a youngster, my introduction to public speaking really didn’t occur until I was in second grade at Harwood Elementary School in Evansville, Ind. It was a time, you see, when great public orations were being made.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King had electrified many Americans with his “I Have a Dream” speech on that late August day on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Earlier, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had delivered a moving and brief speech in West Berlin, which was surrounded by the Soviet military juggernaut, and uttered a final sentence proclaiming, “I am a Berliner!” A well-intentioned phrase and one of great meaning, but one that literally translated into the German language, “I am a jelly donut.”

Kennedy, incidentally, was no fluffy donut, though history revisionists would have you believe otherwise.

Many schools then – and I hope they continue with this tradition to this day – periodically would set aside a time in classrooms for an exercise called “Show-and-Tell.” It was an opportunity for youngsters to bring a favorite object to school, perhaps a photo, toy, family memorabilia, anything of special interest to a student of which they would give an impromptu explanation about the item. The intent, I suppose, was to help you feel more self-confident.

The original stand and deliver situation.

My teacher, Miss Harper, was a large woman in her early 60s, and she had a tightly curled mane of hair the color of a backyard, summer bonfire. But she had a gentle and encouraging nature. A real old-school teacher, so to speak, when it came to motivating our class. She endured our childish behavior; she was there to comfort us when the news of JFK’s murder was announced over the school intercom on that chilly November afternoon. And she seemed to be truly interested in what we thought and what we had to say. Thus, her passion for providing us with the opportunity to exercise our right to free speech and expression

Friday, May 10, 2013

The importance of wearing clean underwear and other motherly advice

Any of these phrases sound familiar to you?

Someday your face will freeze like that! … Just because your friends might be jumping off a cliff doesn’t mean you have to do it too…  Don't put that in your mouth, you don't know where it's been. Don’t you dare look at me like that… 

Why? Because I said so, that's why! ...  Did you flush? I was not put on this earth to be your personal slave… Always put on clean underwear in the morning, in case you're in an accident.

And my personal favorite…  I hope someday you have children just like you! The eternal “Mom Curse” which has haunted children since Eve broke up the first fistfight between Cain and Abel – before things really got serious.

Ah, Mother’s Day. This weekend,  mothers around the country will awaken to a day that honors them. They will receive crayon-colored cards made in school or day care. Some will get flowers or plants reminding, poignant reminders that most things on God’s good earth begin with a seed, take root and grow. I think an old Jewish proverb sums it well: A mother understands what a child does not say.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Via Dolorosa and the wills of many

The shadows of night slumped across the streets and walls of the City on the Hill. In an upstairs room, the teacher had knelt before each of his closest students and washed their feet. They shared the bread and wine. The celebration turned somber.

Then he walked up the familiar slopes of the Mount of Olives and into a garden. The trees were blue in the moonlight. He trembled and sweated as if he were bleeding. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away. But not what I want – what you want.”
The will of the Father.

In the courtyard near where a crowd gathered, the fisherman-turned-follower-turned-Rock kept to his story. Three times. “I tell you I don’t know him! When he realized what he had done, he cried bitter tears and ran away.
The will of the Rock.

The men in tall hats and flowing robes questioned him harshly and judged him falsely. The guards slapped and punched him around, and they spit on him. Then they sent him to the governor, who largely view the prisoner, perhaps at worst, a misguided madman. But the governor heard what the unruly spectators were demanding.
The will of the mob.

Pilate washed his hands and walked away.
The will of the politician.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Slow ride into the City on the Hill

The traveling preacher was in the suburbs of Jerusalem, two little nondescript towns called Bethpage and Bethany. That’s when he told the so-called "Sons of Thunder" to go fetch a donkey which they would find tied up near the road. Bring it back and if anyone gives you any grief, tell them the Lord needs it. 

And so they did. Even Judas had his thoughts about what was about to happen – the teacher was going to lead his pupils and followers into Jerusalem. We’ll show those smug know-it-alls who’s the king!” he thought.

As he made his way up toward the city, folks began to line the rocky roadway. Some threw their robes and shawls down along the path. The crowds grew and the rider nodded and waved at them and continued along his way atop the little beast. He seemed happy. He looked in the direction of faraway Bethlehem, smiling and remembering the story his parents had told him about the donkey his mother rode so long ago to the place where he was born.

Then he looked straight ahead shaking his head a bit, maybe recalling the time when he was 12 and ditched his parents in Jerusalem to discuss the ancient writings with the scholars. Kids and their parents don't always understand one another. But then again, nothing, after all, ever had been ordinary in all of his 33 years.

Monday, March 11, 2013

What dreams may come must mean something

As long as I can remember, even back to my toddling days, I have had this strange ability to have an instant and somewhat clear recall of dreams from those mystic snapshots of time. Especially those which recur in one fashion or another such as flying in planes and zeppelins and other craft and sometimes spreading my arms and zooming over landscapes on my own. Sometimes crashing horribly.

Dreams of giant, menacing creatures – one I still remember named “Big Jim” – who occasionally played cameo roles in my preadolescence. Rare misadventures where I am unexplainably walking around in my underwear and trying to hide like Adam camouflaging himself in Eden. Cecil B. DeMille Technicolor productions of biblical proportions of every ilk and kind, leaving me gasping, laughing, screaming, questioning, doubting, believing, crying and in utter awe after awakening.

I had an epic dream and it was a vivid travelogue. Some folks sail in slumber to Tahiti, claw their way to Mount Everest's summit or voyage to undiscovered and unimagined worlds. Last night I traveled throughout much of Hoosierland.

IT ALL BEGAN with anxiety at an innocuous hotel in downtown Indy. I was trying to find my current jalopy, compounded only with the angst of not even having its keys. I wandered through parking garages and worried knowing fully aware I had to make a road trip. All but ready to give up, I sauntered into a last garage and a seedy fat guy with a beard greasier than a White Castle “slider” listened to my sorrowful story.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pass participle

There’s an ancient Jewish folktale that goes back to the reign of Solomon. It’s said that the King, feeling blue one day, asked his chief adviser to find him a ring he had seen in a dream. 

When I feel happy, I’m afraid that it won’t last, Solomon said. And when I feel sad, I am afraid my sorrow will go on forever. Find me the ring that will ease my suffering.

So the King's aide scoured the countryside searching for this ring. Every city, every tiny hamlet, every chance meeting of wandering Bedouins. It was an impossible quest but near the end of his journey he met an old jewelry maker who listened to his dilemma. The jeweler picked up a simple gold ring he had with the four-word inscription.

When Solomon later examined the ring, all of his sorrows turned to joy and his joy to sorrows.Those words contained the most fundamental truths of what it means to be human: This, too, shall pass. 

Are you standing in an unemployment line? This, too, shall pass.

Are you at peace and harmony with all of your loved ones and friends? This, too, shall pass.

Great to hear you made the honor roll again and got the lead role in the spring musical, but I have to warn you: This, too, shall pass.

When you gazed into the mirror this morning were you quite impressed with that youthful, good-looking gal or guy staring back at you? Sorry, for this, too, shall pass.

Did the guys who pick up your trash remember to thoughtfully place your cans away from the street? This, too, shall pass.

So it seems, as the cliché goes, the only permanent thing in this life is change. People, things and experiences enter and exit our world through a revolving door. But one is constant.

He shall not pass, ever.

Monday, February 18, 2013

An Auntie with wings

We slipped quietly into the room at the nursing home, purposely not wanting to make a noisy arrival. My Mom reached for her baby sister’s hand and patted and asked how she was feeling on that chilly, sunny Saturday morning.

Had your coffee and donut this morning, sis? Brought you some visitors. Ol’ Joey boy and his fiancé came down from Indianapolis, and Kris’ boy, Logan, are here today.

I moved to the side of her bed, knelt and gently entwined my fingers with hers. Hey, don’t bother to get up. Just thought since we were in town we’d stop by to say howdy,” I said. Her right upper lip lifted a bit and she squeezed my hand. She understood my weak joke.

Fine, good, she whispered.

A million-eleventy megazillion thoughts were pouring through my memories and emotions as we clasped fingers. Here reclined a tiny woman who taught me at an early age some fundamental yet effective curse words and appropriate PG-13 responses to what life throws at us. A person who has spoken her mind since her first birthing scream; who has loved her children, family, and other inner circles with unbridled passion; and one who largely has lived a life on her terms, yet acquiescing as we all must do from time to time.