A wonderful story about the spirit of the season. Happy Holidays to all of you, however you celebrate!
The following is a guest post in the form of an open letter from Special Olympics athlete and global messenger John Franklin Stephens to Ann Coulter after this tweet during last night's Presidential debate.
Dear Ann Coulter,
Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren’t dumb and you aren’t shallow. So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?
One of my favorite poems . . .
Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.
~ Philip Booth
I found out on Friday. A post of some kind drew me to my high school’s Facebook page and I took the opportunity to scroll through the posts. There weren’t many as it’s not a particularly active group.
And then I read this: “A memorial to Mrs. Kelsey, beloved English teacher. RIP Mrs. Kelsey!!” attached to a 7-minute YouTube video showing a modest memorial at Kailua Beach with a few close family and friends sharing their memories of the woman they called Mom, Grandma and Friend.
I cried, of course. How could I not mourn the passing of this wonderful woman who I count as one of only three childhood teachers who changed my life?
I first met her when I was in 9th grade through my friend, Robin, who had the fortune of having her as her 9th grade English teacher. I had not been so fortunate. I had to wait until 10th grade to fully apprehend this teaching wonder. I chose her Creative Writing class and from then on, through the last days of my senior year, she was a constant in my life. She taught me to journal (and look where that has led), to love Shakespeare, and to trust my voice.
The memories have flooded in this weekend.
Walking to her portable classroom at the back of campus.
The poster in her classroom of a soldier carrying his wounded comrade with the caption “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” It was, after all, the Vietnam era.
Christmas decorations and goodies on a rainy Hawaiian day.
Music, music, and more music. And writing. Ah, blessed and cursed writing. The poetry of words.
The Planets. She loved to play all kinds of music for us to stir our creative juices, especially when we were journaling, but The Planets is the one that sticks out in my mind.
She knew I was interested in the dramatic arts, so she snagged me to participate in the Shakespeare Festival that was held every year at Chaminade College. I was Kate (from Taming of the Shrew) in 10th grade, our group presentation from from Julius Caesar won 2nd place in 1973, and in 1974 I won first place for my soliloquy from Titus Andronicus.
When we were juniors, the teachers went on strike. Except for Mrs. Kelsey. She kept her classroom open and a few of us straggled in for the 18 days that the schools remained closed. I had a single mom and we had nowhere else to go. “I came to teach,” Mrs. Kelsey told me, “Not to go on strike.” I’m sure she was an outcast for that, but it taught me an important lesson: be true to who you are even if it means everyone will hate you.
That same year, our drama teacher took a sabbatical, so we drama junkies were left with a shadow of a stand-in and only one play to work on (as compared to the three productions a year that happened when Mr. Bright was leading us). For many of us, Mrs. Kelsey’s classroom became our alternative gathering place.
We spent many, many lunch hours listening to music in her portable classroom with only the sunlight peeking through wooden louvers acting as our illumination. I think we wore out her copy of Jesus Christ Superstar.
I couldn’t get enough of her. In my junior year I was her teacher’s aide (5th period, if I recall correctly), and she graded me generously. Or was it a bribe? Regardless, she seemed to see something in me that I didn’t see in myself and for that I’m eternally grateful. I guess that’s the mark of an excellent teacher, isn’t it? The three teachers that I mentioned above all made me feel bigger, stronger, more capable than what the rest of the world seemed to be telling me.
And finally, that last year, my beloved Mrs. Kelsey and adored Mr. Bright joined forces to take the Shakespeare Festival by storm. A perfect ending to a perfect year.
Even after high school, Mrs. Kelsey and I kept in contact. Although she once asked me to call her “Janet,” I couldn’t do it. She considered me her friend, and I did the same for her, but she was and will always be, Mrs. Kelsey.When my daughter was born in 1983, she knitted her a pair of rainbow-colored booties and with them came a handwritten letter.
May 14, 1983
Welcome! Sorry my greeting is a bit tardy, but I didn’t want to meet you empty-handed.
Tell Mom that these can be washed in the washer, dried in the dryer, and never need the strings removed. Perhaps the rainbow will make you want to come back for a visit.
Here’s a hug for you & Mom (& Dad even if he doesn’t know me),
Carissa! How wonderful for you starting off the mother business with a dear little girl. Treasure every minute (- before you know it, she’ll be 30 – as my Anne will be in June). My congratulations to Dad!
Thespians are having a big 20th anniversary banquet. Wish you could be there.
Best love, JK
She sent this photo in December 1983.
She retired from teaching in the 90′s but that didn’t stop her. She went on to host a jazz music radio program at the University of Hawaii Manoa’s KTUH. Many a time she’d written me about this, but because of the time difference I was never able to tune in, even on the intertubes. How I would have loved to hear her voice again.
She slipped away, quietly, last September.
”So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!” – Susan Cooper, The Shortest Day
. . . And there’s this: parents who, particularly in this country, are expected to be superhuman, to raise children who outpace all their peers, don’t want to see what we see. The long truth about their children, about themselves: that none of it is forever.
I would walk through a tunnel of fire if it would save my son. I would take my chances on a stripped battlefield with a sling and a rock à la David and Goliath if it would make a difference. But it won’t. I can roar all I want about the unfairness of this ridiculous disease, but the facts remain. What I can do is protect my son from as much pain as possible, and then finally do the hardest thing of all, a thing most parents will thankfully never have to do: I will love him to the end of his life, and then I will let him go.
Were it not for TAM, I would just as soon forget this month ever happened. Still, I’m not bereft. The sadness of the current time is tempered by my sense of how deeply I love and how deeply I am loved. And that’s a good thing.
Still, I can hardly stand the news, especially that of the antics in Washington.
So, I’m reading. And fiddling with my photography. And tending my garden. And laughing over margaritas with Sweetie. And teaching Nina to roll over. And reading.
Currently, it’s Richard Dawkins’ Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder. This snippet from the first chapter, The Anaesthetic of Familiarity sent me scrambling for my pen to mark it:
It is no accident that our kind of life finds itself on a planet whose temperature, rainfall and everything else are exactly right. If the planet were suitable for another kind of life, it is that other kind of life that would have evolved here. But we as individuals are still hugely blessed. Privileged, and not just privileged to enjoy our planet. More, we are granted the opportunity to understand why our eyes are open, and why they see what they do, in the short time before they close forever.
Here it seems to me, lies the best answer to those petty-minded scrooges who are always asking what is the use of science. In one of those mythic remarks of uncertain authorship, Michael Faraday is alleged to have been asked what was the use of science. ‘Sir,’ Faraday replied. ‘Of what use is a new-born child?’ The obvious thing for Faraday (or Benjamin Franklin, or whoever it was) to have meant was that a baby might be no use for anything at present, but it has great potential for the future. I now like to think that he meant something else, too: What is the use of bringing a baby into the world if the only thing it does with its life is just work to go on living? If everything is judged by how ‘useful’ it is – useful for staying alive – we are left with a futile circularity. There must be some added value. At least part of life should be devoted to living that life, not just working to stop it ending. This is how we rightly justify spending taxpayers’ money on the arts. It is one of the justifications properly offered for conserving rare species and beautiful buildings. It is how we answer those barbarians who think wild elephants and historic houses should be preserved only if they ‘pay their way.’ And science is the same. Of course, science pays its way; of course its useful. But that is not all science is.
After sleeping through a hundred million centuries we have finally opened our eyes to a sumptuous planet, sparkling with colour, bountiful with life. Within decades we must close our eyes again. Isn’t it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it? This is how I answer when I am asked – and I am surprisingly often – why I bother to get up in the mornings. To put it the other way round, isn’t it sad to go to your grave without ever wondering why you were born? Who, with such a thought, would not spring from bed, eager to resume discovering the world and rejoicing to be a part of it?
Off to read some more.
As a mother, and a human being who is weary of war, how I wish that on Mother’s Day we would, for at least one day of the year, remember the ravages of war.
The original Mother’s Day was proclaimed by Julia Ward Howe in the aftermath of the American Civil War.
The horrors of the Civil War even changed those the conflict made famous. Speaking to a graduating class of military cadets years later, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman uttered his famous truth about the nature of warfare as part of a rebuke to the era’s “chicken-hawks,” people who call for war without having experienced it.
“I confess without shame that I am tired and sick of war,” Sherman said. “Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded, who cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is Hell.”
By 1870, Julia Ward Howe had been deeply affected both by the ongoing agonies of Civil War veterans and the carnage occurring overseas in the Franco-Prussian War. Though very short, that war resulted in almost 100,000 killed in action plus another 100,000 lethally wounded or sickened.
The First Mother’s Day
So, as a humanist who cared about suffering people – as well as a feminist and a suffragette who advocated social justice – Howe penned her “Mother’s Day Proclamation” in 1870 as an appeal to mothers to spare their sons and the sons of others from the depredations of war.
The Mother’s Day Proclamation was partly a lament for the useless deaths and partly a call to action to stop future wars. The call was directed, not to men, many of whom may have felt proud for their “service,” but to women, who often have proved more thoughtful and humane about issues of human suffering.
Then, on June 2, 1872, in New York City, Julia Ward Howe held the first “Mother’s Day” as an anti-war observance, a practice Howe continued in Boston for the next decade before it died out.
The modern Mother’s Day, with its apolitical message, emerged in the early Twentieth Century, with Howe’s original intent largely erased from the mainstream consciousness. Howe’s vision of an antiwar mother’s call to action was watered-down into an annual expression of sentimentality.
[ . . . ]
Julia Ward Howe’s Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870:
Arise then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or tears!
Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.
Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience.
We women of one country will be too tender of those of another to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.’
“From the bosom of the devastated earth, a voice goes up with our own. It says, ‘Disarm, disarm!’
The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor does violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar but of God.
In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.