Dreams That Build Tomorrow

Photo by Clement Eastwood on Pexels.com

We all have dreams. Some of them come to us in the dark of night while we are asleep. Others evolve inside our minds. Of late my nocturnal sessions have been populated with spurts of nonsensical meanderings that make no sense at all. I have not had what might be called a coherent dream in many months. In fact, until very recently I was battling long bouts with insomnia brought on no doubt by my tendency to worry about the entire world. It can be exhausting to be perennially concerned about both the people around me and those in the larger realm of faraway places. 

I was having trouble turning off the thought processes of my mind even when I was quite tired. A few adjustments to my daily routine has improved that situation greatly. I curbed my use of caffeine to include only one serving each morning rather than adding an afternoon lift of tea. I drink more water instead and that seems to help. I have quit watching the late news reports before retiring for the evening as well. I can’t do anything to change the situation in the middle of the night so I don’t need to concern myself until morning. I’ve also made sure that I am eating healthier foods and getting lots of exercise during the day. I additionally moved my husband and me to an upstairs bedroom that is cooler and darker at night than the master bedroom. All of those things together have led to some incredibly restful sleep and dreamless nights.

Most of my dreaming is of the daytime version. I am rather idealistic in that regard but then the whole concept of a dream is to think outside of the box and into the seemingly impossible. I suppose that many naysayers would have deemed the American revolution against the crown of the British Empire to be the stuff of fools and yet somehow those longings for freedom from tyranny materialized. When John Kennedy spoke of sending a man to the moon within a decade there were many who laughed at the very idea but with great ingenuity the United States planted a flag on the lunar surface in the time frame JFK had outlined. 

Over and over again humans have dreamed of better ways of living and those seeming fantasies have materialized into realities. Our ancestors of long ago would not recognize the world with all of its innovations. We complete journeys that took them weeks and even months in a matter of hours. We live longer and in better conditions that my grandparents knew. Life has seemingly taken an upward arc every time someone has had a dream that they work hard to make come true. 

We still experience many problems. There are great challenges to overcome. It will be from seemingly ridiculous dreams that we will better our situations. Things that seem impossible now will no doubt become commonplace in the future. Even as I type these words humans across the globe are using their creativity and intelligence to create new and better ways of doing things. It is up to us as a society to encourage such genius just as patrons of times past sponsored giants like Leonardo da Vinci who envisioned flying machines and medical break throughs that seemed like fiction. 

I too have many dreams. I believe that our world will of necessity change drastically to stop the march of climate change that we humans have created. I envision gasoline fueled cars becoming as obsolete as buggies. I foresee homes powered by solar panels and backyard wind turbines. I think we will begin to grow smart crops that not only feed the world but also remove carbon dioxide from it. I think that we will all begin to change the way we do things and actually learn to enjoy the benefits of doing so. Our biggest obstacle will be our reticence to leave behind the old ways and try the new. 

As an educator I am fully aware that we sometimes latch onto a routine way of operating our schools and do not adjust quickly enough to the needs and trends that develop over time. I dream of creating greater flexibility within our educational systems that allow for individualization of programs for each person and locale. The idea that one size fits all is limiting and absurd. Every teacher knows that we are continually losing talented students simply because our routines and methods aimed at some imagined median are bound to miss the mark for those students and locales that are outliers. We have learned how to create hybrid systems during the pandemic. Building on what we have learned will lead to better and better delivery of knowledge for everyone. No longer can we accept a lockstep approach to learning as the best option for each student. 

Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I dream of a world in which we no longer hold prejudices and preconceived notions about any human. This is perhaps the most challenging problem that we face as people and the only way that we can continue to improve will be to admit that we have a serious situation rather than glossing over the issues with platitudes and good intentions. Sometimes we simply need to listen to and believe those who tell us how difficult it is to be a minority in society. We are still spending too much time defending offenses of the past that are actually indefensible and speaking over the cries of those attempting to tell how bad things still are. 

I have so many more dreams. I want to make our universities and training programs more accessible for everyone. I hope to finally create a fair and manageable immigration system. I know that we must work harder to find hope and cures for the mentally ill. I envision a day when nobody has to be homeless. I believe that we have the capacity to build a better and better future for those yet to come but it will not happen as long as we have a constant stream of naysayers shooting down the ideas that are presented just because there is a bit of risk and expense in trying them out. We have to be bold and willing to tackle the universe. Wishing upon a star is something a child does. Flying into the stars is the stuff of the builders of tomorrow. 

A Man For All Seasons

I remember the day that Jack Michael Green was born. His dad called me at my school to alert me that my daughter was in labor and to urge me hurry to the hospital. I raced around collecting my things and leaving work for my students to do in my absence. I picked up my husband at his job just down the street. We drove as fast as we could to get to the hospital which was around ninety miles away in Beaumont. When we got there we wrong hospital on our first try. Luckily we arrived at the right place just a few minutes after Jack was born and in that moment he captured my heart. 

Jack was a happy baby and an ever pleasant child. He was calm and always ready to laugh. He was pure delight with eyes so blues that they seemed to outdo the sky itself. Wedged between three brothers he took his family middle child role in stride never seeming to get upset or cause drama. He liked to dance, swim, play football and learn. He was a curious soul and a profound thinker with a memory like a trap. He enjoyed listening to the silly stories that I created just for him and when I changed even one aspect of the tales I he would remind me of the correct way of telling them. He was always a easy-going, an observer, a gentle soul. 

As Jack grew he seemed to be a man for all seasons. He loved music and learned to play multiple instruments. He taught his younger brothers to swim and when they began winning medals they always told people that they had learned techniques from the best. He joined his high school theater group and surprised us all with his talent, staring in roles that required him to become characters of many different moods. He excelled and advanced in mathematics and science to the point of becoming an unofficial tutor of his classmates in subjects like Advanced Placement Physics. He knew how to balance life in ways that would confound most adults and one of his proudest moments was becoming an Eagle Scout.

One summer we took Jack to visit San Francisco and Yosemite National Park. He was sweet and threw himself into enjoying every single moment of the trip. He loved walking among the giant trees of Yosemite and talking about philosophy and life. He liked a one man performance about John Muir so much that we had to go see it twice. One evening he and I stayed up half the night watching Forest Gump on a station that had more commercials than movie time. Surprisingly he won a trivia contest at a restaurant the very next day by answering questions about the movie. We visited Monterey Bay and Half Moon Bay where he delighted in the ocean views and running into the icy cold water to jump the waves. We had long conversations about spirituality and our ancestors and other topics that most teenagers don’t seem to care about very much. 

Just before his senior year in high school we drove Jack to visit Texas A&M University where he met with members of the Computer Science faculty and he was so taken by what he saw and heard that he knew that he must attend that school. And so he did as a member of Honors Engineering, making the Deans List, winning a design contest and landing a summer internship with a software company in Austin as a freshman. He would later work with a professor in the Computer Science department on a project dealing with virtual reality and then at a large company in Dallas. All the while he was a man with a plan as he took one course after another while continuing to work with the virtual reality study. He knew exactly where he wanted to go and what he wanted to accomplish and did all that he needed to do to get there.

Today Jack Micheal Greene will graduate with honors from Texas A& M University with a degree in Computer Science. Of course the whole family is so proud of him but somehow we always knew that he would be able to achieve any goal that he chose. In addition to so successfully completing his courses he already has a job with Deloitte in Austin, Texas. He’ll be working downtown and living on his own for the first time in a great apartment that he found not too far from his work. 

Jack has been highly successful at everything he has attempted to accomplish throughout his life so I have little doubt that he will exceed expectations in his career just as he always had. I suspect that he will also have a very good time while doing so because he is so good at squeezing joy out of life. He’s also going to be a force for good because he is politically well educated and he understands issues and how to deal with them better than even the vast majority of lawmakers. 

Jack was named for my father and my husband. He also happens to share the same first and middle names as my brother. In many ways he is an amalgam of the best of all three of these men. Like my father he is a kind of Renaissance man who is equally comfortable with the arts, sciences, engineering and technology. Like my husband he is thoughtful, wise, contemplative, philosophical. Like my brother he is a rational thinker who understands technology and its potential for changing the world. Like all three men he is intellectually brilliant and handsome to boot. With such a combination of characteristics he is sure to have a very good life. 

The long sometimes dark journey through the past year has been tough on the entire world. Jack plowed on with patience and determination just as he always does. Today we honor his efforts and wish him all the best in the future. He has made us all very proud and brought sunshine and hopefulness into our worlds that have been so dominated by viruses and unprecedented events. It’s comforting to know that Jack is ready to take the reins of adult responsibility. He is exactly the kind of person that the world needs right now and we feel lucky that he is excited about being part of finding the solutions that we so desperately desire. 

Congratulations, Jack Michael Greene! You have accomplished so much and yet the best of what you have is still to come. How fun it will be to watch the next phases of your life unfold!

Life Is A Parade

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

I receive a morning update from the BBC each day. Recently one of the headlines told of massive parades taking place in Johannesburg South Africa in honor of the Zulu Queen who had died. Members of the Zulu nation crowded the streets wearing traditional clothing and chanting songs. Such methods of remembrance and honor have long been a staple of history. 

During the Middle Ages parades were often held on religious holidays. Villagers and townspeople created elaborate floats decked out with icons and flowers. When there was a river nearby such decorations were placed on boats thereby creating a new meaning for the word “float.” When there was no waterway the people simply carried the creations on their shoulders. Cheering crowds lined the streets where such festivities became annual attractions. 

Over time the idea of using parades and floats to celebrate some occasion became more secular even in the case of the most famous of these traditions, Mardis Gras and St. Patrick’s Day. Now we see parades with marching bands, performers, and of course a variety of floats to commemorate even gridiron challenges like the Rose Bowl. During the year if we are not constrained by a pandemic there may be parades for Dr. Martin Luther King and Thanksgiving. Some towns have Christmas and Fourth of July parades. There are even parades to honor victorious athletic teams or heroes like astronauts. Gay pride parades have become a staple all over the world and wherever there are Asian populations Chinese New Year parades are featured. Invariably a float or two shows up as part of the entertainment for each special tribute. 

I’m a sucker for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I suppose I’ve been watching it for as long as it has aired on television which must be a rather large number of years. I enjoy seeing the floats, especially the ones that come back year after year. Of course nothing tops the grand finale which features Santa Claus officially kicking off the Christmas season. I get goosebumps every time I see him with his reindeer. You’d think I was a little kid if you saw my giddy grin. 

A few years ago I experienced my very first Mardi Gras parade in the French Quarter. The one I viewed is known as a rather political and raunchy swipe at current officeholders and issues. It certainly lived up to its name and I died laughing at the sarcasm represented on each float. I took a number of photos but most of them were too daring to actually post on my Facebook wall. Later I attended a Mardis Gras parade in Galveston that was more family oriented. We were guests of friends who had rented a house on the parade route so we enjoyed the festivities with lots of good food and drink from the comfort of lawn chairs. It was great fun but I have to admit that the enthusiasm of the local high school bands stole the show from the floats. 

Two years ago I got to see a military parade at Buckingham Palace. The heraldry, uniforms, precision marching and music were breathtaking. It is a memory that I will forever hold in my heart. It was a parade without floats but they were not needed at all. The British really know how to put on a show!

One of the most infamous parades of all time took place in Philadelphia during the pandemic of a hundred or so years ago. The event had been planned to raise money for veterans and the mayor of the city did not have the heart to cancel it even though he was warned that it might be a super spreader of the dangerous virus that would eventually kill millions of people worldwide. Thousands of citizens crowded together for the event and not long after the city was in a state of chaos as people became critically ill. Philadelphia became one of the hardest hit locales of death in all of the United States. 

This year the only parades have been remote. Macy’s managed to televise a pared down version of its annual Thanksgiving Day celebration. It actually turned out to be rather nice. Some of the entertainers were missing but I never cared much about their performances anyway. The main man, Santa Claus, showed up as usual so I was satisfied and quite happy. It felt as though somehow we were all going to make it through this difficult time. 

I saw my all time favorite parade in Estes Park, Colorado. We had traveled there the day after Thanksgiving to attend the wedding of one of my cousins the following day. When we learned that the town was going to have a Christmas parade we decided to stick around to watch. As the chilly afternoon turned into night the temperature took a frigid dive. Before long we were shivering under countless layers of clothing and blankets but our sacrifice of comfort paid off because the parade was incredibly delightful. Everything about it was homespun and simple but so heartfelt. It seemed as though every possible group in the town had created a float of some kind. There were local bands and even the residents of a nursing home sat on rocking chairs in the back of a pickup truck and waved to the crowd. I felt the Christmas spirit more than I ever have and I entered that season feeling quite joyful. 

It never ceases to amaze me how we humans find ways to celebrate people, events, life. Our creativity is boundless as is the optimism that prompts such things. Parades and floats are so human. They take place all over the world in every culture. They seem to be a natural part of who we are. Communal activities are part of our DNA. Using our creativity to enhance such events is a universal instinct. We don’t just work and eat and sleep. We make our lives a party. Life is a parade. 

Searching For New Profiles In Courage

Photo by Krisztian Kormos on Pexels.com

I am independent by nature. I follow rules when they make sense but question them when they do not appear to be needed or if they seem to actually hurt a group of people. In politics I’ve never been swayed by the platform of a particular party. I tend to vote for the individual, none of whom ever seem to completely conform to my way of thinking. I look for candidates who appear to be mostly rational, well spoken, dedicated to working for all of the people, not just a particular base. For that matter I’ve never been part of a base for either of our two big political parties. I almost always find areas of disagreement with both the big tent of the group and the leanings of the individual. 

I suppose I am a free thinker and I really do contemplate each issue individually. Most of the time I have to find a compromise candidate for whom to vote because I literally abhor the idea of blind loyalty to one person or party. I look for people who appear to really care about our democracy and its processes even if now and again they support some idea with which I do not concur. Over the years my voting record has included an incredible variety of individuals and has rarely been based on a single issue. 

I did a bit of protesting in my college years but I always left the scene if it became too rowdy. It was not my style to become abusive in either words or actions. I was a student and a fan of passive resistance. I wanted to make my concerns heard but I was unwilling to do so in an aggressive or hurtful way. This is why the leaders of the fifties and sixties civil rights movement like Rosa Parks, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were my heroes both then and now. 

Of late the tenor of politics has morphed into a more rabid form. It almost seems passé for some of our leaders to be honest, soft spoken, willing to see differing points of view and then compromise. Washington D.C. is the center of a kind of “my way or the highway” form of thinking that is often eagerly supported by the electorate. In the process Congress has come to more closely resemble a standoff between the Hatfields and McCoys than a legislative body. Issues languish in limbo because so few of our elected officials are willing to work together to do the things that we all know must be accomplished. Instead Congressional sessions have become little more than opportunities to stump for the next election down the road. Our legislators no longer work to get things done for the country but more often turn their work into political rallies designed to please some base or power broker rather than the vast diversity of people that is America. 

Democracy itself is being threatened by a kind of bullying designed to keep all of the political players in line. Voting by conscience is considered a breach of trust. When John McCain gave a thumbs down to attempts to abolish the Affordable Care Act without a reasonable replacement this once revered war hero suddenly became a pariah. When Mitt Romney voted to impeach the former president because he deeply believed that it was the right thing to do for the country he was greeted with boos from his party rather than respect for his courage. When former president Trump continues to insist that the election of 2020 was a big lie even after mountains of evidence has proven the contrary anyone in his party who insists that he is wrong is all but tarred and feathered and run out of town rather than being allowed the freedom of speech that our Constitution is supposed to protect. 

Enter Liz Chaney, the daughter of a former Vice President of the United States. A woman with a conservative Republican pedigree that reaches back years, she is now being threatened with the loss of her number three spot in the House of Representatives only because she has been willing to push back on the absurd idea that Joe Biden and the Democrats stole the election. She has been brave enough to face reality and refuse to blindly bow in adoration to Donald Trump. She is willing to risk losing her career as a lawmaker to protect our democracy and its processes. The reward for her love of America has been bullying and disdain. I for one believe that she is in fact the best hope for the Republican party to remain viable in our country. We need her and others like her who are willing to alert us when the emperor has no clothes.

In truth I prefer not discussing political issues. I know that I have never changed a single mind by outlining my views. I generally find conversations about the big challenges of our time to be somewhat circular these days, but it has not always been so. I recall a time when the people we sent to Washington D.C. were willing to work with President Lyndon Johnson to carve out the Civil Rights Act. It was an imperfect document but it was a start, much better than nothing at all. Congress used to provide solutions like sending an immigration reform bill to President Ronald Reagan that may not have solved every problem but certainly tackled many of the main challenges. Now it seems that our lawmakers are so afraid of losing votes by using common sense compromise that they simply snipe at each other for the duration of their terms. When one of their members gets out of line they make a big show of shunning that individual lest the voters take our their revenge in the voting booth.

I firmly believe that our beloved country with all of its flaws and sometimes questionable history is wonderful but right now is more fragile than it has been since the Civil War. We the people have created an echo chamber of no value with our votes for only a certain kind of person who is willing to follow the party line like a lemming jumping from a cliff. Until we send a message of support for those who actually have convictions rather than soundbites ruling their comments and their votes we will continue hurtling toward unresolved and insurmountable problems. 

We have to tone down the rhetoric and partisanship. We should be embracing those whose courage demonstrates their willingness to sacrifice for the good of the nation. We the people have the power to demand that our elected officials quit preening and arguing and get down to the business of healing our country. Let us hope that we can somehow find the new profiles in courage because we most surely need them if democracy is to survive.

Being Our Best Selves

Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

I have the highest regard for athletes. I am someone who has always struggled in that arena so I marvel at those who have honed their motor skills to the point of greatness. Just as with intellect some individuals seem to be born with athleticism but the true giants in any field have dedicated themselves to perfecting their abilities. Great athletes work as hard as someone earning a medical degree. I am in awe of anyone willing to push themselves beyond the ordinary. 

The closest I ever came to developing the more activity oriented aspect of my humanity came with running and twirling a baton. The running was something that was easy for me and I loved feeling the wind on my face as I sprinted like a gazelle. It never occurred to me to join a track team because I was such a late bloomer who was far smaller than my peers until my junior year in high school. I nonetheless felt incredibly comfortable whenever I ran. Sadly those days of dashing freely are long gone. My arthritic knees prohibit me from pounding my full weight onto the balls of my feet. I feel a great sadness in no longer being able to use the one physical talent that came so naturally to me. It makes me think of older athletes riddled with pain from the abuses their bodies have endured and I somehow understand the sorrow that they must feel in losing their abilities. It would be like losing my ability to read or write a coherent sentence. 

I generally struggled with any motor skills that required me to coordinate my eyes with my limbs. All forms of sports using balls were painfully difficult for me. It was as though my brain refused to connect with my hands and my feet. My lack of motor skills made me a very empathetic mathematics teacher because I fully understood the frustration of being unable to perform a particular task and then being ridiculed for my ineptness. There was only one thing that I somehow managed to do well in the physical realm besides running and that was to twirl a baton. Because I was good at manipulating that metal shaft through my fingers I became passionate about perfecting my craft and spent long hours in my backyard practicing until I was able to toss my baton high into the air and catch it easily. Of course along the way to perfection I received many bumps on the head as the instrument came careening from space like a rocket programed to hit me on the top of my skull. My impish brothers enjoyed laughing at those moments and teasing me that I would surely sustain brain damage, a family joke that endures to this day. 

Athletes indeed punish their bodies beyond anything that the rest of us ever endure. The stresses that they place on their bones and organs ultimately end their careers far sooner than they would like. Sports are wonderful until a bone breaks one time too many or a brain takes too many shocks. There is nothing more beautiful to me than an athlete at the peak of his or her career but also nothing more sad than a former great dealing with chronic pain. I do not begrudge the incredible salaries of professionals because the shelf life of an athlete is far shorter than in any other career. If they are wise they invest their income well because it is unlikely to endure past their thirties in most cases. 

I have to admit that I prefer high school athletics far more than college or professional teams. Sports at that level have a kind of purity that is missing as the culling process progresses to the best of the best. In high school there are still possibilities for those who enjoy the games that use their talents. There may be that one triumphant moment of greatness that will always be remembered even if the glory ends at graduation. There is a kind of simple joy at that level when hopes and dreams of continuing forward are still alive. 

I marvel at the dedication of athletes. They arise in the dark to attend practices before the school day even begins. Every moment of their daily schedules is filled. They not only must attend their academic classes and fulfill all of the demands therein but they also find themselves playing on weekends or during the school week long after their classmates have gone home to study. Their routines are brutal and demand organizational skills and a willingness to work as a member of a team. Little wonder that even athletes who end their sports careers in college go on to excel in their chosen fields of work because of the discipline that they have learned to apply to their lives.

I have to admit that I don’t really follow professional sports. I’ll watch a football game now and again but I’m not a season ticket kind of gal. I like baseball but the game is a bit slow for me and the season a bit too long. I enjoy the pace of basketball and feel most inclined to give my attention to those contests. Golf puts me to sleep but I marvel at swimmers and often feel as though theirs is a highly underrated and under-appreciated skill. To me the most beautiful athlete though is the runner. I love watching someone who has elevated his or her innate ability to flee into a kind of art. A great runner seems to epitomize the perfection of the human body. 

I admire anyone who is athletic. I believe in the need to cultivate and exercise every aspect of our human abilities. Being our best selves demands that we develop our bodies, our minds and our souls. Athletics are but one aspect of being human and pushing the envelope of who we are.