Precious in His Sight: Red, Brown, Yellow, Black, and White

Bright lights overhead illuminate a fun space. My eyes take in shelves with animal puzzles, bins with textured balls, sets of play tools, baskets of plastic fruit and veggies with pans for the play stove in our classroom. On my right – xylophones, bells and colored cushions. On the left side I see a box of string-a-beads, and on a shelf underneath – friendly-looking doggies and kitties that push or pull.

It’s Sunday morning, and I’ve entered the pre-school resource room at my church holding a white plastic basket for carrying items I’ll take to our classroom.

You see, two-year-old youngsters like to play. That’s how they learn. These children confirm the idea that “Play is the highest form of research.” (Unverified quote attributed to Einstein)

fbckidsxylophone

I continue circling the “toy” room and stop in front of the doll display now, dolls arranged in families: mommy-daddy-brother-sister. “Which sets of dolls should I pick out today?” I stop and wonder out loud.

asianblackfigures

hispanicwhitefigures

Children who walk through our classroom door have family origins in Viet Nam, Myanmar (Burma), Nigeria and Bosnia. Although our attendance records show Taylors, Elkins, and McCalls, the list also includes Biak, Torres, and DeVevo.

Friend and co-worker Gloria, who'd rather hold real babies!
Friend and co-worker Gloria, who’d rather hold real babies!

 

Why the Ethnic Dolls?

We obviously don’t point out differences with young children at play. I have never said to a two-year-old, “Look, this doll is hispanic (or black or white).

Of course not!

Then what’s the point?

When children see an image that looks like them, they can identify with it intuitively. We volunteer teachers aim to communicate to these impressionable little people that our world includes families with many different skin colors and facial features. The good Lord loves them all – and so, obviously, do they.

 

 

Spontaneous hug
Spontaneous hug

“Jesus Loves the little children” video + lyrics

* * *

Another Question

Recently author, journalist, and lecturer Gail Sheehy asked the question, “Is Trump out to make America white again?” Recent developments before and after our contentious election in America may warrant such a concern.

Our answer as pre-school teachers: Not if we can help it!

doctorcarpenterfbc

You may want to check out a Mennonite voice, Becca J. R. Lachman, whose blog expresses a wish to keep “a welcome sign [to everyone] lit in neon.”

* * *

Your turn: An anecdote, an illustration, a contrasting point of view. All are welcome in this space . . .

Coming next: 7 Ways to Stay Young: Nuns Reveal Their Secrets

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Heart on Fire: Guess Who’s Voted for President!

Outrageous.

Unbelievable.

True.

These are the words author/researcher Ann Malaspina uses to describe the legal practice of denying women the right to vote in 1872. Even though women could own property, pay taxes, hold a job, and raise children they could not participate in elections.

When Susan B. Anthony challenged this practice, she also used three profound words to state her intent: “Failure is impossible.”

In a juvenile book with gorgeous illustrations by Steve James, Malaspina details the amazing life of the founder of the women’s voting rights, Susan B. Anthony:

anthonycover

* Because of a new law, the 14th Amendment to the constitution, all persons born in the United States have the same right as citizens. She told the men at the registration table she is a person and citizen. Therefore, she should have the right to vote.

* After arguments with inspectors, she finally registered to vote.

* On Election Day, November 5, 1872, Anthony raced to the polls and cast her vote at seven a.m. She had voted for a president!

Illustration: Steve James
Illustration: Steve James

But trouble was brewing . . .

* On November 18, 1872, a deputy federal marshal stepped into her parlor intending to arrest her. She demanded that she be arrested properly, but he wouldn’t handcuff a lady.

* In January 1873, Miss Anthony was ordered to pay one thousand dollars or go to jail until her trial.

* She refused to pay. She didn’t want to give the court a dime.

* As the trial grew closer, she argued her case all over the country: Washington, D. C., Philadelphia, Chicago. She visited Kansas, Oregon, and California.

* At the trial, the judge pulled a paper from his pocket: “The fourteenth Amendment gives no right to a woman to vote,” he argued.

*But she persisted.  The next day, the judge allowed her a final word. She rose to her feet and delivered these words with a punch:

“You have trampled under foot every vital principle of our government. My natural rights, my civil rights, my political rights, my judicial rights, are all alike ignored.”

* The judge banged his gavel and ordered Miss Anthony to pay one hundred dollars plus court costs.

Illustration: Steve James
Illustration: Steve James

* Finally, as a person and as a citizen, she told the judge, “May it please Your Honor, ”I will never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.”

And Susan B. Anthony never did.


At her 86th birthday celebration in 1906 in Washington, D. C. Anthony remained determined to secure women’s right to vote. “Failure is impossible,” she declared.

A new generation pushed the movement forward and finally Congress passed The Nineteenth Amendment on June 4, 1919. “That November, twenty-six million women cast their vote for president.”

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

 


Brief Biography:

Born February 1820 to a Quaker family where women were considered relatively “equal to men,” Susan B. Anthony left her stamp on history.

Courtesy of National Women's History Museum stamp exhibit
Courtesy of National Women’s History Museum stamp exhibit

 

Also, her image is imprinted on a dollar minted from 1979 – 1981.

An energetic, self-disciplined teacher, she was refused permission to speak at a teachers’ convention and at a temperance convention, prompting her to focus on women’s rights. Early on, social injustice galvanized her to action.

In 1890, she led the National Women’s Suffrage Movement.

Determined and focused, she traveled far and wide to champion voting rights for women: Kansas, Louisiana, Georgia and as far west as Oregon and California.

Called “The Napoleon of the woman’s rights movement,” she moved to Washington every winter to lobby Congress. Later, Ms. Anthony rallied for international efforts for women. Even Queen Victoria asked to meet her.

She died in 1906, regrettably fourteen years before women were officially given the right to vote, 1920.


I hope you will exercise your right to vote this November election. It’s a privilege we dare not take for granted.

If you live in another country that extends voting rights, you can exercise this right as well.

* * *

Bonus: Remember Geena Davis from “Thelma and Louise”? She is letting her voice be heard in another arena. Check here to find out more.geenadavisinstitute

 

Your thoughts and opinions are worth more than the 3-cent postage stamp pictured here. Or the dollar on which her image appeared.

Thanks for sharing in this column.


 

Coming next: Aunt Ruthie Longenecker, Birthdays to Remember

Paring Down, Tidying Up – Some Tips

“Listen to this” I said to Cliff as I began reading the page on sorting papers: “Rule of Thumb – Discard Everything. ” As I continued reading the chapter on sorting papers in Marie Kondo’s New York Times best seller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I saw my husband’s eyes bug out, his jaw go rigid. I imagined his next move would be grabbing the book from my bare hands. (He didn’t.) Even though papers accumulate in our house like snowdrifts, he was having none of it.

It’s hard to dispute the dictum of a Japanese cleaning consultant like Kondo who claims that none of her clients have lapsed – and who has a three-month waiting list. She insists that if you organize your house properly, you’ll never have to do it again.

At the heart of her message is this: Keep something only if it sparks JOY in your life. And related to this: Give it away, if you think it will inspire joy in others.

So, I have divested myself of possessions I’ve held onto for decades.

Ribbons and sewing notions have gone to a church friend, Donna, seamstress extraordinaire, who has connections to talented women needing supplies.

RibbonGiveaway

Like my friend Carolyn, I have passed on items of fine dining. My wedding crystal went to my hair stylist and super hostess Jackie. Originally, I intended to donate my crystal (from The Susquehanna Glass Factory in Columbia, Pennsylvania) to The Community Hospice Thrift Shop. But before I ever got to the donation center, Jackie took a look, fell in love, and the crystal sherbets and glasses became hers.

Crystal

By far the hardest thing to divest myself of is MY BOOOOOKS! They are part of my self-hood, my identity for the decades of my long teaching career. I am not the only book lover who wrestles with such impulses. Summer Brennan writes about the heartache of such a task here. Like her, I feel torn by the lure of Kondo’s promise of the magic of recycling and my impulse to embrace William Dean Howell‘s advice, “Oh, nothing furnishes a house like books.”

I’ve given dozens of books to Angel Aid, a charity for women and children. But I feel just as good when they land in the hands of young scholars, like Matthew, who can appreciate the nerdy translation of my Chaucer texts from Middle to Modern English, pre-digital translate days.

ChaucerTranslation

­­­­Matthew took my Milton text too, and two Survey of English Lit texts. He exclaimed, “I appreciate this. I can’t thank you enough,” followed by a smiley face and book emoticon.

ChaucerMilton

I feel a certain lightheartedness at getting rid of stuff, especially if I can pass them on to people who appreciate their worth.

Grandma Longenecker can relate to such a feeling. She told me so in a letter from Rheems, Pennsylvnia in April 1975.

GrandmaRidStuffLetter

“They are busy at the shop, selling a lot of new equipment, I turned the shop over to Ray and house to Ruth, so I’m rid of that stuff.”

In other words, Grandma divested herself of two properties by deeding them over to my father and aunt. I’m guessing that she was immensely relieved of responsibilities for either property.

She continued to live in her lovely Victorian home until the day she died.

1989RuthieHouse

Coming next: A rollicking review of Marie Kondo’s book and a glimpse of the shop Grandma deeded to my dad. Neat versus messy? You decide.

Your tips for paring down and tidying up are welcome here.   🙂

 

My purple hat - Out the door!
My purple “Downton Abbey” hat – Out the door!

 

How to Teach a Piano Lesson

“Joel, I’m going to the Christian Light Press in E-Town for some birthday cards, do you want to go along?”

“Okay, Mommy, do you think they have lollipops?” queried my mischievous son.

“I don’t think bookstores have lollipops at the counter like doctor’s offices do, but maybe they have other fun things to look at,” I said, thinking he would enjoy an excursion into town while visiting his cousins in Pennsylvania.

Entering the store, I spied precious novelties tempting to touch, a fact that struck me with a fearsome shudder because I had an 8-year-old in tow.

“Now don’t touch anything. Just look. Do you see the sign on the display? It says ‘If you break it, you buy it!’”

“Uh huh,” he said racing to the music boxes and other curios.

I turned to the bank of colorful greeting cards not far away eyeing cards appropriate for Mother and sister Jean.

“Squeak-thunk,” was the next sound I heard across the aisle, close to where I saw the top of Joel’s thatch of brown wavy hair.

Cards in hand I strode over toward Joel and saw him holding a toy baby grand piano. As I looked closer, I noticed the hinge to the piano lid was halfway broken off. Turning the piano upside down to reveal a music box attached underneath, I noted a sticker. The price tag announced: $ 13.95. Please understand, we were a struggling young family in the 1970s, my husband and I both teachers, so the money registered on my mental calculator as a staggering figure.

Right there and then I had a double D attack: disappointment at my son’s disobedience and dread coursing from head to toe knowing we had to face the owner and admit to the breakage.

My feet felt like lead as I led Joel by the hand and I trudged down the aisle toward the clerk/owner who appeared to be glowering at us behind a tall metal cash register with raised keys and a bottom drawer that slammed shut.

I approached the counter speechless but managed to turn over the music box revealing the price tag. Swallowing slowly I formed words, “I guess we’ll need to pay for this. My son broke it accidentally.”

“Yes, you will. You see what the sign says.” I knew the warning only too well.

Opening my wallet hesitantly, I shelled out the dollars and cents, Joel standing by my side his head hanging, embarrassed and chastened.

* * *

Leap forward over thirty years, and son Joel now has his own son Ian, also age eight.

Several weeks ago I presented Ian with this same piano that has sat on my bookshelves for decades, occupying space between American poetry and art history books. Because we are downsizing, I have been passing along keepsakes to the next generation.

Joel was privy to my intention and approved my gifting the piano that plays the Lord’s Prayer as a tinkling, lullaby tune.

The presentation of the bequest began with a sturdy, red shoebox surrounded by tissue and foam padding. And then the unveiling . . .

IanOpeningPiano

Turning the wind-up key, voilá – sweet music filled the air.

PianoTwist Key

I announced, “When, he was your age, your dad broke off one of the legs on this toy piano.”

“Oh, no, not a leg, the hinge was broken off,” Joel corrected.

JoelPassingToIan

My memory had played tricks on me and the cause of the accident had morphed into something else.

Memory can be fuzzy sometimes. It’s not fixed as a photograph / locked in an album, / but it changes, it develops, mixed with time,” as Barbara Crooker wisely observes in her poem, Not a Spoon, a Key. Sometimes memory can even be wrong.

Squinting now at the underside, I see the replacement on the left, slightly larger screw and bolt than those on the other side. Lid held up with two toothpicks.

IngeFixed

ChristianLightPress13.95

And here it is, good as new!

PianoUpClose

 

Not a word was spoken about doing the right or wrong thing.

Words weren’t necessary.

 


 

 

Can you relate to my dilemma here?

Has your memory of family incidents every played tricks on you? Readers will enjoy your story and so will I.

 

Coming next: Raise a Mug to the Irish

Are You Too Big for Your Pot?

I didn’t hear a Bang. I didn’t see the pot Fall. But when I looked from the upstairs bedroom window, I saw shiny red chards of pottery on the patio floor. I really liked that red pot and now it was in pieces.

Broken Pot

How did that happen?

There was no wind. I was not aware that a storm had come through during the night. Still the pot had apparently fallen from its perch on the maroon planter, three feet above the concrete. Now it was smashed to bits on the patio.

Encased within the pottery was a plastic inner pot from which roots were dangling. The plant was apparently pot-bound, “longing to break free”!

RootBoundInnerPOT

It doesn’t take a genius to see these tall plants had outgrown their tiny pot: roots bursting through the pot hole.

My solution? Re-pot the plant. Add fertile soil. Use a bigger pot.

Plant Re-pot

I heard my orchid, a rare re-bloom, sing morning praises.
I heard my orchid, a rare re-bloom, sing morning praises.

And then I made the planter pretty too – with an unbreakable basket

BasketPotPlant

Some of the most memorable lines in Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” speak of cracks ~ “Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack, a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”

I see at least 3 lessons here:

  1. Even cracks have a function: they can let the light in.
  2. You don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. What’s broken in you can be a metaphor for human aspiration. Your flaw can show effort and growth.
  3. When you are pot-bound, move into a bigger pot.

My blog friend writer Dorothy Sander recently published a post with a poem “Finding Her Here” exalting our cracked and broken parts. You can find encouragement by reading it here.



Psalm 51:17 “A broken and a contrite heart thou wilt not despise.”

Paperwhites

What are your thoughts about the broken pot? Is there an explanation I may be overlooking, either literally or metaphorically?

Have you outgrown the pot you are planted in?

Or, when you outgrew your “pot,” how did you find a bigger one?

Coming next: Are you ready for spring?

Friends from Faraway and Long Ago: Kitsa and Lydia

Kitsa and Lydia were among the very few women in my graduating class at Eastern Mennonite College who did not wear a prayer veiling atop their heads. Why? Because they were not Mennonite.

Lydia Mattar from Jerusalem, Jordan and Kitsa Adamidou from Salonika, Greece were international students and my good friends when I attended EMC. Their origins both have a biblical stamp: Kitsa’s hometown was originally known as Thessalonika, the name of two New Testaments books (Thessalonians I and II) and Kitsa’s father from Jerusalem was the Keeper of the Garden Tomb, the site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection. (Photos from 1963 Shenandoah yearbook)

KitsaYearbookPortrait

Always on the look-out for fun!
Kitsa, always on the look-out for fun!

And then Lydia . . .

LydiaYearbook Portrait

Lydia in Dr. Daniel Suter's Anatomy class
Lydia in Dr. Daniel Suter’s Anatomy class with lab assistant

I was drawn to Kitsa and Lydia during my freshman year because I have always been curious about other cultures. In fact, one year Lydia was my roommate. It appears this inclination has run deep in my DNA. Now as I hold in my hand one of my Grandma Fannie Longenecker’s letters from college I can sense her keen interest in my “foreign” friends and a deep longing to know them better.

In this letter dated December 1, 1960, she insists that she would like both girls to spend Christmas at her home. Born in 1892, Grandma Fannie Longenecker was 68 when she wrote these words to me:

Dear Marian – Guess you’ll be surprised to hear from me, I sure wanted to write before, just didn’t get at it – (Reason) older and slower . . . . Ruth was looking for a letter from you so be sure and bring Lydia & Kitsa along home over Christmas, and forget all about paint etc, two of you can stay here & we’ll have a good time that’s the thing that really matters, I think I’ll be Kitsa’s Grandma of America – Do you know what she needs or wants for Christmas? Forgot to say I’ll pay her way up & we really want them to come, so make it strong, times soon here!

Later in the letter, Grandma admonishes:

Be sure and get arrangements to come home early & if possible bring the girls along. I’ll pay Kitsa’s fare on arrival & find out what she would like for Christmas. This $ 5.00 spot is for you, maybe you need a little for odds and ends or transportation home. Tell us what you are hungry for, that you don’t get at school.

Mark tells me ‘Marian will soon come home’ and his face lights up, so we are all looking forward to that day. Hope your old toe is better.

Grandma’s interest in Kitsa persisted through most of my college years. In her letter of March 8, 1962, she referred to Kitsa and her roommate pictured on the front page of Christian Living magazine (February 1962).

For over 25 years, my Grandma and Aunt Ruthie practiced peace and goodwill toward all, as they opened their home to refugee and immigrant families, beginning with Phuong (pictured below), a young woman who arrived by boat from Vietnam. Their home was a warm cushion absorbing the cultural shock of leaving home and family; it was a safe haven, welcoming refugees from a colláge of countries including Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Russia—anywhere there was political upheaval.

1979Grandma,Ruthie, Phuong_small

Although she graciously accepted the Salt of the Earth Award from Lutheran Social Services in the 1990s, Aunt Ruthie never bragged about her benevolence. From her perspective, she was merely sharing the love of Christ and fulfilling the statement of Menno Simons, founder of the Mennonite faith:

Framed print on the wall of Grandma and Aunt Ruthie's sitting room, 1996
Framed illustration on the wall of Grandma and Aunt Ruthie’s sitting room, 1996

In a noisy world where some speak of building tall walls and wish to spread terror and violence, I am thankful for my heritage including an education at an institution, now Eastern Mennonite University, where the language of peace is preached and modeled. In fact, it is now possible to earn both under-graduate and graduate degrees in justice and peace-building at the University.

EMUJusticPeaceQuote

 

Regrettably, the contact information I have currently for both Kitsa and Lydia has not yielded any results, so I don’t know what paths their lives have taken. But I do know that their lives, like mine, have been imprinted with the power of peace, a message this world could stand a good dose of in these troubled times.

Postcript:

Just this morning, December 11, 2015, I had a long phone conversation with Kitsa, her smooth, alto voice music to my ears. She now lives with her husband in North Carolina and is very active at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church where she is head of the Hellenic Culture initiative. She also gives private Greek language lessons.


 

How have international friendships affected your life? Have you connected with long-lost friends recently?

Learning 101 with Ananda and Ben: Role Reversal

My Pilates instructor is a spring chicken, and my writing coach is young too, just thirty-nine years old, younger than either of our children. Still, They are teaching me.

Since childhood, we have been conditioned to think of our teachers as older than we are. Such a perspective probably was formed in elementary school when our teachers were the age of our mothers or fathers. And then in high school, if we’re honest, some of those 45-year-old faculty looked absolutely ancient to us. I imagine I was viewed as an older sister when at Lancaster Mennonite School I was a mere four years older than my senior students. As I aged in my teaching profession, in my students’ eyes I may have passed for a mother or aunt, and later, in my sixties, students at the college must have viewed me as a grandmother or great-aunt.

Now after more than forty years in education, I am well into an encore career as a writer. To support such a sedentary life-style, I need to get off my duff and twist and turn, bob and weave, flexing muscles that get very little use otherwise as I finger the back-lighted black keys of my laptop, warming a pillowed chair. Ananda at Bailey’s Gym helps me do that. On her Pilates mat in front of a class of middle-aged women, she is as flexible as a rubber band, inviting us into poses of bold bends that I can at best only approximate. Gentle and petite in nature, this native of Colombia helps me correct my efforts.

Ananda2

“Ma-ri-ann, eez this way . . . extend your left leg a lee-tle further.” And so, I adjust my appendages to comply with her instructions, but not without cringing a little. Yes, though Ananda is ever so easy-going and gracious, I do chafe at being singled out for wrong moves. After all, she called out my name. Everyone else heard that I messed up! Still, I know I will bring out my exercise mat next week and sit for another session with her gentle but precise guidance.

Then, there’s Benjamin, my writing coach. A poet, gardener, and memoir-writer, Ben Vogt is my writing teacher in an online course entitled All in the Family: Research and Write Your Family’s  History. He too is gentle, introspective, always affirming. But he is also incisive, biting into the scripts I send him with loud barks in return, always in caps: HOW BIG IS MEDIUM? YOU’VE GOT TO BE FAR MORE DETAILED AND DESCRIPTIVE FOR US . . .

BenVogtGardener

And on the next page, I see more yelling in loud crescendo as I notice I have missed the mark trying to describe what my Mennonite pastor was wearing: LET’S SEE THE WARDROBE WITH MORE DETAILS – NAME THE CLOTHING PARTS MORE, SHOW SHOW SHOW! To be fair, every once in a while I see that I have succeeded: “GREAT PARAGRAPH!” he shouts in all caps. He is thrilled when I use sensory detail (All five senses now!) to properly develop a scene instead of resorting to flabby adjectives. Then I’m both surprised – and pleased.

What is the point here? I am submitting to tutelage because I want to. I believe there is way more for me to learn. I’m not a finished product, and probably will never be, so I need more priming and polishing from folks expert in their fields. Why? Because I don’t have the insight to see how or where my efforts have gone awry. And, yes, these tutors can be younger, way younger, than I am.

Have you learn’d lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you?

Have you not learn’d great lessons from those who reject you, and brace themselves against you? or who treat you with contempt, or dispute the passage with you?

Walt Whitman Leaves of Grass

Of course, neither Ananda nor Ben have ever rejected me or treated me with the slightest bit of contempt, but each has sought to “dispute the passage with [me],” and though it is uncomfortable, even painful at times, I have benefited from these lessons. Indeed, I am learning lessons from them and others. Learning. Still.

Still learning.

Are you are lifelong learner? How or when have you learned from “teachers” of any age? Inquiring minds want to know . . .

 

Coming next: Faraway Friends: Kitsa & Lydia

My Year in a Convent

Nuns live in convents. At least that was true in America in the1960s. Strictly speaking I was not an actual nun, a Catholic sister with a habit like Karen Leahy, who left her convent at Mount Maria to pursue a literary life and experience more freedom. (My review of her book The Summer of Yes here.)

As a student at Eastern Mennonite College, where my un-cut hair was piled neatly under a prayer cap, serving the church was held in high esteem. In fact, the idea of service was drummed in to me as a teaching intern. And so, when the dean of education at the college suggested I apply to Lancaster Mennonite School for my first teaching job, I jumped at the chance. I could serve God and pursue a career I already knew I loved.

I didn’t wear a wimple, scapular, or tunic either. But, as a Mennonite girl in the 1960s, I did wear a prayer veiling and caped dress. My prayer veiling served to acknowledge my obedience to church rules while a cape over my bodice muffled whatever feminine contours I may have had then. Like Karen Leahy, known as Sister Marie Cordé, my clothing announced my separation from the world before I uttered a word. It also assumed a higher set of expectations from me.

Even before I joined the faculty at Lancaster Mennonite School, I wore a prayer veiling and a caped dress, but not all the time. Just for church. But now as Sister Longenecker, a teacher at LMS, plain clothing was de rigeur, not optional.

And I could do so with one of my EMC classmates, Verna Mohler. She and I had shared dorm space at EMC. Now we would transplant ourselves into a similar arrangement as beginning teachers at LMS.

Laurel Wreath yearbook, 1965
Laurel Wreath yearbook, 1965

Verna and I were side by side and plain. She taught American Literature, and I English Literature along with Penmanship and Spelling.

Yes, side by side in the yearbook, The Laurel Wreath, whose table of contents featured 5 divisions: Faculty, Students, Organizations, Activities, and Worship. There was no orchestra or band – no football or basketball teams then either. Certainly no theatre.

Filmy, white curtains filter pure, virginal light into this teacher's dorm room study
Filmy, white curtains filter pure, virginal light into this teacher’s dorm room study

During our first year of teaching we lived in adjoining rooms in the girls’ dormitory, an awkward situation because of the proximity of students. One evening before supper, I took off my cape and went to the dining hall with just a sweater over my dress. A perceptive student reported me to the Dean of Girls, who gently suggested I mend my ways and remain caped around students at all times.

Of course, our students were plain too . . .

LMSclassStudentsBut my bulletin boards were fancy

Even then I liked quotations

The second year Verna and I moved out of the girls’ dormitory and lived on the edge of campus in a mobile home, which we shared with June Sauder, the Home Economics teacher.

VernaTrailer

Our trailer was situated in a park-like setting on the other side of the Mill Stream, a bridge between us and campus buildings.

VernaDaffodilsHere again I flirted with danger. One of us rented a TV to see the shocking story of the Kennedy assassination unfold and subsequent funeral proceedings. A student noted the blue glow from our trailer window and reported us to the administration, an action for which we were reprimanded. However, words that we heard on the broadcasts became additions to our students’ vocabulary knowledge: cortege, caisson, requiem.

Sometimes after hours, we skipped wearing the prayer coverings, but always had our heads covered, even if it was with a filmy white bandanna.

CometVernaMarian

Verna’s Comet became our get-away car when June, Verna and I drove into Lancaster city with serviceable black purses to admire fancy red ones in a shop window, our expressions hopeful.

Our coverings are smaller when we go shopping in Lancaster
We wore smaller coverings and no capes when we went shopping in Lancaster

The Lancaster Mennonite School publication, Bridges, to which I still subscribe, has changed dramatically since Verna’s and my short tenure there. Student rosters now include names like Rodriguez, Rosenfeld, and Fukuhara along with the typical Lancaster County Mennonite names Weaver, Harnish, and Nissley.

The LMS sports teams are going to the playoffs this year. Lancaster Mennonite and Lancaster Catholic are competing in an international ping-pong tournament. Most interesting of all, the name of Lancaster Mennonite High School appears on the Fulton Theatre marquee in downtown Lancaster displaying the 2015 Beth Bash Award for Excellence in the performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Imagine!

TheatreLMS

A statement from their current principal J. Richard Thomas reveals the continuing strong spiritual mission of LMS:

As a school, we are building stronger wings and growing deeper roots one student at a time. Here students encounter a risen Christ who calls them to transformation, empowering them to be world changers. Our Graduate Profile states that our graduates will “practice global awareness, cultural sensitivity and humility, respect, an anti-racist lifestyle and compassionate living.”

With stronger wings and deeper roots, the graduates of the class of 2015 were commissioned to walk humbly with Jesus . . . and, in doing so, partnering with God in building a kingdom where individuals “from every tribe, language, people and nation” are gathered together around the Lamb.           Revelation 5:9

Is your life, like mine, dramatically different now from your childhood experience? Share your story here.

Coming next: Peachey House, a Prequel

A Lunchables and An Invisible Thread

I bought this portable meal, a Lunchables, to give to a homeless person. So why is it still sitting in my refrigerator?

Lunchable

Last week I planned to give this lunch to the next person I saw holding a “Hungry & Homeless – Will you Help?” sign as I waited in my car for the traffic light to change on a busy boulevard in Jacksonville, Florida, a city that attracts the destitute for several reasons including its mild climate.

Sure enough, I was first in line at the red light leaving the grocery store, and I spotted a downtrodden young woman looked eager for my help. I popped the trunk and jumped out of the car, intending to offer her the lunch, but she declined, “No, ma’m. That won’t help at all. I need $ 99.00 to blah – blah – blah.” No, I didn’t give her $ 99.00 because I never give cash to the homeless. Instead, I give to the needy through our church or through homeless shelters in town.

Yet, this brief encounter left me conflicted, with two opposing strong sentiments: a Yes and a No

Yes, I did feel cynical as the light turned green, knowing the woman was probably scamming people. No, I will never stop feeling sorry for the “homeless” regardless of their intentions whether it’s a real physical need to survive, untreated mental illness or something else.

Giving money to the homeless is an economic crisis of the heart, a tug-of-war between the instinct to alleviate suffering and the knowledge that a donation might encourage, rather than relieve, the anguish of the poor.        The Atlantic

On my nightstand sat a copy of The Invisible Thread: The true story of an 11-year-old panhandler, a busy sales executive, and an unlikely meeting with destiny. It was time to read it!

AnInvisibleTHreadCover

An Invisible Thread, a Review

“Excuse me, lady, do you have any spare change? I’m hungry.” Those were the first words out of the mouth of Maurice, as Laura Schroff, a publishing executive at Time Inc, rounded the corner from Broadway to 45th Street in New York City. She passed him by, but something special in his eyes halted her and she turned on her heel and, nearly killing herself in traffic, went back. Thus their paths converged and the story of a thirty-year relationship began.

No, Miss Laura did not give Maurice spare change but on the spot she took him to McDonald’s for a Big Mac, large fries, and milkshake. Then over the years they met every Monday night often at her luxury apartment where Maurice learned about ritual and rules for living: sitting down to eat a meal, showing up on time for school. Laura’s cozy nest provided a safe haven, an escape from his one-room hotel room, a den of violence where 10-12 assorted needy “friends” and family flopped to sleep off a drug binge or cook crack to deal on the streets.

Not until Chapter 8 does the reader learn about the tug on the other end of the invisible thread – the unspeakable violence in Laura’s middle-class childhood home where a father in drunken rages would fling full liquor bottles against the wall and destroy his son’s sports trophies.

She admits, “I couldn’t help but think that the terror and uncertainty we faced as children because of my father was similar to the chaos that Maurice now had to endure.” (107)

Laura’s memoir, reminiscent of The Blind Side, interweaves three dynamic narratives: The first, the story of Laura and Maurice’s growing relationship. Secondly, Laura’s back story as both victim and then survivor of her dysfunctional home. And finally, Maurice’s maturation into an adult with a family of his own, reflecting what Joseph Campbell calls “the hero’s journey” often fraught with obstacles and setbacks.

Maurice & Laura, Google Image
Maurice & Laura, Google Image

I began reading the book because I was intrigued by the disparity between an accomplished woman in Manhattan and a needy young boy from Brooklyn. I was compelled to read on because I wanted answers: Why would a young woman who helped make USA Today and InStyle successful publications risk all to build trust with a young man who had nothing to offer in return? How did an ill-kempt beggar boy, who has since developed a career in construction and is raising his own family, enrich that woman’s own life?

In the end, Author Schroff realizes that both she and Maurice had traveled together on a voyage of self-discovery. Her message: “This is a book about how, if we learn to let go of fears and burdens and expectations, we can find ourselves plunged into the sweet, unplanned blessings of life” (book blurb).

After thoughts

Should you give money to homeless people? According to the article in The Atlantic: “The short answer is no. The long answer is yes, but only if [you do it through] an organization that can ensure the money is spent wisely.”

But maybe . . . if you are someone with the incredible courage of Laura Schroff, there is still another answer.

Click here for a short video, a Lunch Date with Destiny

Your thoughts, always welcome!

Moments of Extreme Emotion: A Lunatic in London

I knew we were in trouble when the rotary path took us around Buckingham Palace and not directly to the Comfort Inn, Hyde Park, where we were aiming to roost for our stay. Never mind that the steering wheel on our dark blue Vauxhall was set to the right, opposite the American style. Or that Cliff drove on the left side of the road in order to turn right. Or that I as volunteer navigator was gripping the fine print of a touring map of London, my head bobbing up and down trying to match street signs with landmarks, occasionally screaming.

Our kids were through college, we had celebrated Joel’s wedding just days earlier, so as empty nesters off to London we flew in early August. We were not exactly neophytes to travel out of the country. After all, we’d been to Montreal, Banff, and Jasper in Canada. Why England should be a snap. They speak English there too, and I love the British accent.

We got some rest that evening and were up the next morning eager to explore London. The concierge at the hotel recommended a nice place to get some lunch. We finally found a car park (aka parking lot) close to our hotel before having lunch at the Swan Pub.

BigEyesPub

Now we had to figure out whether there was a parking time limit on the spot we had chosen. Okay, it looked like we were in a 2-hour time limit parking zone, plenty of time. So we got a sticker for one hour from the kiosk and affixed it to the windshield as directed. Mind you, we paid in British pounds sterling (clinky-clanky coins – not paper) so we heard the payment registering in the kiosk like in a slot machine.

Lunch was taking longer than we expected, so I leaped over to the car park to buy another windshield sticker to extend our parking time. Of course, we wouldn’t want to get ticketed on our first full day in London.

On our return, we were relieved to see that there was no parking violation displayed on the windshield. But we looked again, and “Oh, no,” we groaned, “there IS a suspicious piece of paper hidden under one of the windshield wipers!” I sprung into action and yelled to Cliff, “This must have just happened. I’m going to track down the policeman who gave us the ticket!”

Galloping down the sidewalk with citation in hand, I spied a London bobby who looked as though he could be on our parking patrol.

“Sir, (trying to hold my emotions in check) you gave us this parking violation ticket, but we have paid for two hours of parking, sufficient for the time used.” I urged him to check our windshield and he complied, walking back to the car with me.

LondonParkingTicket

With careful scrutiny, he replied, “I realize, Ma’m, that you paid the full amount, but the total parking time has to be reflected on one sticker, not two, even though the amount you paid was sufficient.”

“Well, that makes no sense at all,” I retorted. “We have paid the City of Westminster/London the full amount, why should it matter how many stickers are displayed on the car?”

Unruffled, the gentle bobby restated his case, emphasizing once again the city’s policy.

Now I have shifted into a higher gear of ire. “Well, I am shocked that you do not recognize that you have received payment in full. This is not right. I want to speak to your supervisor,” I insisted.

Reasonable, the patrolman made an effort to accommodate me. “I can call him, but you’ll have to wait. He is not available right now.”

“Fine! I’ll wait for as long as it takes,” I retorted, now more determined than ever. With this assurance, Cliff and I drove back to the street by our hotel, awaiting justice.

Soon I saw two bobbies both in black jackets, official hats, and shiny badges heading toward me.

BobbieMeLondon

By now, husband Cliff, usually the confrontational one, had ambled slowly toward our room in the hotel. Oh, so I see he’s not getting involved in this brouhaha. In fact, the next time I saw my husband was out of the corner of my eye as he was filming the spectacle from the second floor of our hotel while I was shouting at the bobby and his supervisor on the street below.

CliffLondonHotelWindow

Determined, I stated my case again to both, and I was going to make sure that Mr. Bobby Supervisor saw my point of view. “I want you to rescind this ticket. The City has gotten more than enough pounds for the time our car was parked. It is unjust to give us this citation when we have done nothing wrong.”

And so it went on:

They: But you . . .

Me: But we . . .

At one point I was aware of being out of control but felt powerless to stop myself. So, like a crazy woman, I dug myself in deeper.

Apparently the officers had met deranged travelers before and to be conciliatory, they concluded that “By the time your case comes up in court, you will be gone.” Were they going to shoot us?

Moral of the story: When jet lag and culture shock collide, watch out for an explosion!

Can you relate to this experience? Do you have a tale of your own to tell? Add your story to my confessional . . .

 

Clear skies and smiles on both sides of the law
Another day, clear skies and smiles on both sides of the law

 

Coming next: Finding Silver