Love Yourself

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We have lost some icons of the artistic world in the last few weeks, not the least of whom was one of Mike’s classmates at St. Thomas High School. Most of our departed were no more than two years older than I am. Their passing really puts life into perspective and makes me determined to take care of myself and Mike as best I can. The reality is that sometimes even with the a healthy lifestyle and incredible medical care death simply happens. What that tells me is just how necessary it is to squeeze as much life out of every single day as possible. 

Mike and I have met ourselves coming and going to doctors’s offices since the beginning of the new year. As my cousin, Terri, notes, at least we have the doctors and the insurance to take care of all of our woes. Mike has to lose weight which is no big surprise to either of us. I’ve filled my refrigerator with tons of vegetables. I’m thrilled that we now have a Sprouts near our house and I also plan to make regular visits to the Airline Farmer’s Market and Central Market in search of fresh produce. It will be good for both of us. I’ve developed a bit of a rubber tire around my waist which I despise so neither of us have eaten a slice of bread, a morsel of potato, or any kind of rice, cracker, or wheat product in two weeks. I already feel better. It’s amazing how much more energy I have.   Continue reading “Love Yourself”

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A New Star

i282600889618003436._szw1280h1280_I love to hear stories about people who work at jobs that they truly love. Too many people go to work day after dreary day, dreading everything about their occupations. Sometimes they feel trapped in professions that don’t suit them. Changing careers means making great financial sacrifices that they are not willing to endure. They simply remain miserable. Then there are those who risk everything to follow their dreams. Those are the people that I really admire. 

At Mike’s fiftieth class reunion I finally had the opportunity of meeting someone of whom he had often spoken. The man was Ken Magee. It seems that Ken had gone out to Hollywood shortly after graduating to try his hand at acting. He never became famous enough that anyone would quickly recall his name but he did make enough of an impression on the powers that be in the movie industry that he earned a living doing small parts. Hollywood became his home and acting his lifetime career. In fact, he had hundreds of roles in movies and television over the years. His filmography is extensive and even impressive. He played in The Shawshank Redemption, Seabiscuit, Human Nature, The Majestic, E.R., Cold Case, and so many more. He portrayed everything from a scoutmaster to an intellectually deficient murder suspect. He possessed a somewhat forgetful, everyman kind of face that made him perfect for a variety of character roles. Over the years Mike had fun spotting him in different films. Mike liked to brag that he had known Ken before he was famous.  Continue reading “A New Star”

ZZZ

i282600889617983237._szw1280h1280_I had to get up quite early yesterday morning to accompany Mike to the doctor’s office for a glucose tolerance test. It was still dark outside when I arose but there were already children standing on the corner waiting for the school bus. When we left the sun was barely rising over the horizon and yet the streets were crowded with people on their way to work. I was thankful that I no longer have to rush out of the house each morning as I did in the years when I was working. I also thought about an article that I recently read that reported the results of a study that found that most Americans are sleep deprived. 

When I was young there was much talk about how technology would one day allow mankind to work less. Back then prognosticators insisted that we would eventually see twenty to thirty hour work weeks and enjoy much more time for relaxation with our families. Forecasters described a wonderful world in which machines would help us to realize the best of ourselves with less effort. Of course, we all know that few people work shorter hours today. In fact they may even work more. The promised technological innovations have made it easier for fewer employees to accomplish tasks. Instead of shortening the hours of work, most organizations have simply reduced the number of workers that they hire. Most of the people that I know, including young children, seem to be filling more and more minutes of every single day with activities that actually serve to diminish the time that they have to sleep. Our nation is filled with people who are exhausted.   Continue reading “ZZZ”

Our Brother’s Keeper

i282600889617910776._szw1280h1280_Knowing my interest in such things, my daughter recommended a documentary to me last week. I was doing a bit of cleaning and decided to watch it while I did my work. I rarely just sit when a program is playing. Call it attention deficit disorder or obsessive compulsive behavior, I can’t seem to quell my energy long enough to just stay in one spot unless I am writing or working on a tutoring project. This particular program, however, was so compelling that it captured my attention totally and I was soon in a chair taking copious mental notes about its content. I also found myself sobbing, the reasons for which will become clear as I discuss the remarkable film, Brother’s Keeper.

The documentary was produced in the early nineteen nineties by fledgling film makers who took out a bank loan to purchase the equipment that they needed. They had been transfixed by the story of the Ward brothers who lived in rural Munnsville, New York. Bill, Delbert, Roscoe, and Lyman had grown up on a dairy farm and when their father died while they were still young boys they dropped out of school and did all of the work to keep the family business going for their mother. Sadly she died in nineteen sixty five when they were all still quite young men. After her death the brothers became reclusive, only going into town to eat breakfast and carry out matters related to running the dairy farm. 

The Ward boys were outcasts because they lived in a way that few in the modern world would comprehend. They never bathed nor washed their clothes. They simply threw their garments away when they became too worn to wear. They lost their teeth early and grew unruly beards. Their tiny house was filthy and so small that they had to share beds just as they had done as young boys. None of them ever married. Instead they relied on one another for companionship. Their days were relentlessly uneventful as they cared for their cows and other animals. They lived in poverty and squalor seemingly without realizing how dire their social and economic situation actually was. 

On a morning in nineteen ninety one of the brothers ran to a neighbor’s farm to ask for help. Brother Bill was in very bad shape and possibly even deceased. When police and medical personnel arrived they found the man dead in his bed. It initially appeared to be just another old person dying from the effects of age, nothing to be concerned about. When the Medical Examiner checked the body, however, he found some spots of blood that lead him to be suspicious that the cause of death was more sinister. Therefore the police returned to question the three remaining brothers. 

The lawmakers took all three of the Wards to police headquarters and after hours of interrogation Delbert signed a statement confessing to suffocating his brother, asserting that the deceased had been complaining of pain for some weeks. He would later claim that the police had demonstrated to him how he had murdered his brother and that he had only agreed to sign the document because he thought he would be able to go home if he did. Because he had only a third grade education and an IQ of about 63 it is doubtful that he was able to either read or understand what he the information contained in the written confession. Furthermore he did not have his glasses with him and would not have been able to see the words even if he were able to read. When he was charged with murder the people in the small town became enraged and joined together to help him in his defense. 

While the citizens of Munnsville had generally avoided the Ward boys, they nonetheless knew them to be good if ignorant men who minded their own business and worked hard to eke out a subsistence living. They were appalled that anyone would accuse any of the men of a crime as violent as murder. They raised Delbert’s bail money and even held events in his honor. For the first time the Ward boys felt that they were part of a loving community.

The film follows the story all the way through Delbert’s trial and the final verdict. With a disturbing poignancy it shows the effects of low intelligence, lack of education, mental difficulties, social isolation, and poverty. The Ward brothers were throw backs to another era in our history. The modernity of the world had all but passed them by save for an ancient refrigerator and a small television that were the most precious of their possessions. They had no heat in their home even though winter temperatures were often brutal. There was no running water either. They had long ago given up on cleanliness so that decades of filth lay all around them. They had been left to themselves and their own resources as long as they didn’t bother anyone. People simply thought them odd but did little to help them until they were finally in dire trouble. 

Watching the story of the Ward boys was heart breaking and I cried multiple times. It was difficult to view but something that I felt I compelled to do. As Mike and I have traveled in our trailer we have often driven into areas so different from our urban environment as to make us uncomfortable. The abject poverty of some people is all too apparent. The opportunities in some places are so few. We see evidence of social rot on virtually every trip that we take. There are thousands and thousands of Ward boys in our country that we rarely take the time to consider. Through combinations of ignorance and illness they have to fight just to stay alive. They often become hopeless. They are part of a great American tragedy that we don’t always see up close. 

The interesting thing about the Ward brothers is that they were actually quite hard working men. They did not simply sit around waiting for welfare checks. They arose early each day and cared for their livestock even when snow covered the ground. They lived much like our ancestors would have. They never owned a car and their needs were quite simple. They often ate soup for dinner and virtually never enjoyed the kind of entertainment that most of us take for granted. They didn’t feel sorry for themselves either. They were rather stoic and taciturn individuals. They had figured out a way to survive from one day to the next that seemingly worked for them. 

As an educator I often wondered and worried about some of my students who struggled so mightily to learn. They too lived in poverty and were part of an unbroken cycle of one generation after another barely scraping by. Sometimes I became angry that we had so few answers and options for them. Our educational systems all too often fail the very people who most need the knowledge and the skills necessary to do better than just living forever on the edge. We can’t all go to college nor would we want to. Instead of only celebrating those who earn degrees we should also individualize our efforts for our students to include training and certifications for becoming electricians, mechanics, welders, plumbers and other skilled craftsmen. 

Simply throwing money at our economic problems isn’t enough. Even today coal mininers in Kentucky and West Virginia are unemployed and unsure how to proceed in a rapidly changing environment. Rather than just giving them compensation we must also be aware of the need to retrain them and to bring alternative job opportunities into their communities. It’s easy to pass environmental legislation that seemingly helps us all but more difficult to take into account those who will lose their livelihood. We can’t just ignore the plight of those among us who have become chronically poor. Education is our main weapon for combating such situations but we can’t simply create a one size fits all curriculum and think that we have done our best. If we are honest we will admit that we have let down so many of our children just as the town of Munnsville forgot the Ward boys. 

We are all our brother’s keepers. We can’t turn our heads away when we see horrific situations. The problems will not go away if we ignore them. We need the seriousness and the willingness to tackle them honestly and as a community. Hats off to those who are battling in the trenches as educators, doctors, and counselors. The work that they do will bring change to one person at a time. 

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory

i282600889617884931._szw1280h1280_According to the Miriam Webster dictionary a hero is:


a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability
an illustrious warrior

a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities
one who shows great courage

I’ve had a number of heroes in my lifetime, starting with my father, but if I were challenged to quickly name a single individual whose life demonstrated as many of the aforementioned qualities as possible it would have to be Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I have been fascinated by him and his work from the time that he walked among us here on earth. He was in reality an imperfect man like the rest of us but he somehow found an inner resolve again and again to carry out a mission from which he sometimes wanted to run. In the end his dedication to an incredible cause lead to his violent death, a particular irony given that he was always determined to bring about change through passive resistance and peaceful demonstrations.   Continue reading “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory”