Celebrating Our Magnificent Snowflakes

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With each new generation there always seems to be a great deal of chatter about how spoiled or clueless or delicate they are. We hear them described as “snowflakes” not because of their unblemished beauty but because they appear to some adults to be far too fragile to take on the real problems of the world. There are those who poke fun at the ideas and ideals of our youth as though they are living in an imaginary land of unicorns and fantasies. The age old divide between some members of the older generation and our young people continues to flourish just as it always has.

With the outbreak of Covid-19 the normal routines of our youth have been twisted into unrecognizable versions of themselves. In an instant so much changed for our kids. To the utter amazement of many of the naysayers who thought that they would surely fall apart they have soared just as I knew they would. If there is any delight to come from this pandemic it should be the realization that the children are not just alright, they are warriors.

I puff up with pride when I see all of the evidence of our youngsters from toddlers to twenty somethings proving their meddle and creativity. When the track season was cancelled the athletes took to the streets and trails around their neighborhoods to keep in shape. When the lessons went online the kids tuned in to Zoom meetings and worked on assignments in their bedrooms. In the last few weeks thousands of high school students across the country have been faithfully taking the Advanced Placement exams in subjects from American History to Calculus.

I’ve watched a video of the valedictorian of Pearland High School giving a speech to his classmates from his front yard. Wearing a casual t-shirt and a big smile his words are somehow more uplifting and meaningful than they might have been in a big auditorium or sporting venue with thousands of guests squirming in their uncomfortable seats. With the same determination that earned him the honor of graduating number one in his class, he found a way to share a moment of celebration and remembrance with his classmates. I suspect that his moment will one day make a great story for his grandchildren. Moreover, it demonstrates his grit, a quality that will serve him well as he enters the adults world.

I saw a young lady try out for cheerleader at Madison High School. Imagine attempting to show your stuff on film with nobody else around. Well, she did it, and she made it. She is now a very excited member of the squad and she is still practicing wherever she finds enough space to do her flips and cartwheels and routines. She’s not about to let something like a virus hold her back.

I enjoyed the musical recital of my young cousin who continued his lessons remotely. He never quit practicing in spite of the shut down of his city and his school. When the date of his already planned performance came he demonstrated his talent and his creativity with arrangements both on the electric guitar and the piano.

I have laughed with some kids who were once my neighbors who have had their own episodes of “Chopped” for nine weeks now. Their production is professional and delightful. Mostly they spread a sense of optimism and joy with their unswerving determination to make the best of a difficult situation.

I have been impressed by the sweet sounds of the granddaughter of one of my dearest friends. Not only does she have the voice of an angel but she sings with the personality of a Broadway star. She has used her time at home to perfect her performance skills without a single sign of self pity that they have not showcased in front of a live audience.

The eight students to whom I teach various levels of mathematics have checked in on time for all of our scheduled sessions. They are alert and filled with questions. They send their homework without fail. They literally make me smile each time I see them because they are soldiering forward without a hint of complaint. We are excited to be nearing the end of this school year and planning for the new one in August however that may prove to work out.

I know that the children in my cul de sac study for most of the day and then emerge in their yards to run and play and engage in games that keep them at a distance from one another but still provide lots of fun. Their laughter brightens my afternoons and convinces me that they will be more than just fine. They have adapted more quickly to the new normal than most of us old coots have. I sit in my living room and watch their antics with so much delight. They are so alive.

My own grandchildren have been more than amazing. They have put as much effort into their online learning as they would have done in a regular classroom setting. They have offered tutoring to those who are struggling. They have continued to complete community service projects. They are entering online speech contests and trying out for offices like Drum Major of the school band. They have sought out opportunities to learn and grow outside of the required assignments from their teachers. They read voraciously and write about the kind of future they hope to see. They keep themselves in shape with regular exercise. They continue moving forward even as they realistically know that many of their dreams may have to be adjusted.

I could go on and on and on. The young ones are continually inspiring me and giving me so much hope. They are showing their flexibility and their willingness to adapt quickly. They continue to look to the future, even as they know that it may be uncertain. They are filled with ideas and are willing to make needed changes in a split second. We are very wrong if we believe that they are only focused on proms and ceremonies. They are far more mature and realistic than that. If anyone wishes to continue to call them “snowflakes” they need to bear in mind that a snowflake is a mathematically complex and stunningly beautiful and unique creation. When all of those snowflakes come together they create a wonderland that is breathtaking. We should be celebrating their magnificence. 

A Wonderful World

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My mother must have told me thousands of times to “watch and learn.” I took her advice so much to heart that she once had to chide me for always staring at people when we were out and about. I meant no harm, I was just observing them and taking notes in my mind. I’m fascinated by life and the way people respond to the world around them, so naturally I am obsessed with noticing how folks are reacting to the pandemic.

On the whole I’m pleased with what I see. I have found kindness to be on the rise with each passing day of isolation. Even business phone calls are more friendly and caring than they might have once been. People are genuinely wanting to be pleasant and helpful. Most of us are taking the time to be patient and thankful as well. It’s a nice contrast the the hectic stressful pace that seemed to be the way of life only a few weeks ago.

I ordered a birthday surprise and groceries for my father-in-law earlier this week. The woman who delivered the items picked up on the occasion and included a Happy Birthday balloon with the items. She also took a picture of my father-in-law at his door from a distance and let me and my husband know that seeing him smile had made her day. What she did was a little thing that only took a small bit of extra effort but it meant the world to our family. I learned something in that moment, namely that a bit of kindness goes a long long way.

I’ve had neighbors and students sending me messages to be sure that I am doing well. I cannot begin to express how important those connections have been. The isolation seems to dissolve with a text, a card, a phone call. I feel blessed to have such remarkable people in my life and to enjoy the comforts of technology that allow me to see and hear them. I know that there are people working quietly to insure that my internet and electricity keep operating so that I won’t lose touch with the outside world. They are nameless individuals but I actually think of them and feel so much gratitude for their efforts.

I see members of the healthcare community selflessly and courageously going to work each day. Some of them are members of my family. Others are former neighbors or students that I once taught. I know how afraid they are of becoming sick and being unable to care for the people who come to them. They also worry about infecting their own families and yet they overcome their fears and keep returning for another day of work.

One former student spoke of ending a twelve hour shift at her job in the Houston Medical Center. She was exhausted and ready to get home as quickly as possible when she heard a commotion on the street ahead. She worried that her journey home would somehow be delayed and just as she was feeling a bit irritable she realized that it was a parade of ordinary people cheering her and others who were leaving their shifts. She was moved to tears by their support and understanding of how difficult the work has been. For me that one moment describes all that is best in people during this horrific time.

There are hundreds and hundreds of wonderful stories which teach me once again how good we humans really are. For every bad egg there are a thousand as lovely as the finest one made by Faberge. Humankind has mostly been glorious during this catastrophe teaching me that we may be hurting now, and the future may still be difficult, but we will rise to the occasion. The collective virtue of the people of the world will sustain us.

I have also seen things that bother me but I am hoping that this experience has taught most of us to join together to do what is right and defeat the ugliness that often threatens to overtake us. We have seen how significant family and friendships are. We must cherish those relationships above all things. We have witnessed the importance of each individual within our workforce and never again take them for granted. We have experienced the loving concern of teachers for their students and should demonstrate our thanks and regard. We have realized the need for a strong healthcare system for all people, not just those who can afford it. We have felt how much we miss our faith communities and from henceforth we should embrace them with joy. Appreciation should become the central attribute of our daily lives. We must celebrate the young and the old and emphasize the value of each generation. We depend on each other in ways that have become so clear. We are interconnected with our brothers and sisters from around the globe.

I have learned so much while locked away in my home. The funny thing is that I see the world more clearly now than ever before and I am genuinely pleased to know how wonderful it is.

Encounters in a Room

futureI sit across from you in the same room and wonder what it is you are doing. You seem to be intently staring at a slim metal box that lights up both your the area and your face when you set it on your lap and lift the lid. I hear the sound of your fingers tapping in a regular cadence on the surface of the object that is so strange to me. Sometimes I detect sounds coming from where you are sitting but nobody else it there so I don’t understand who is making them. I wish you would sit closer to me so that I might discover what it is that has so captured your attention.

I’m very old and you treat me well. I like the way you smile whenever you glance at me. I enjoy the feel of your hand gently caressing me. I’ve overheard you telling people to take care of me even after you are gone. I appreciate that and I hope that I will be as loved by the next person who takes me to their home as have been by you.

You remind me of a girl I knew long ago. She had the same features as you and she too appreciated me. Back then I was able to do more. I had not yet become as fragile as I am now. I was flawlessly beautiful. Now there are dark spots on my countenance and visible cracks and breaks in my once strong stature. I’ve heard it said that I have grown fine with age but I wish that you might have seen what I once was just as the girl was able to do.

I knew her mother Christina first. I helped Christina and made her smile for a time but she became busy with her family and her endless chores. She had little time to even notice me, but the girl never forget me. When she grew into a woman she took me with her to a new home where we got to know each other better.

I liked to watch her sewing quilts and creating intricate embroidery patterns on tablecloths. She sat humming contentedly as her fingers fashioned magic out of cloth. She was such a sweet and gentle soul and I enjoyed being with her. She and I understood each other, so I was both surprised and a bit worried when she asked you to care for me in her stead. I wasn’t sure how that would work because you were so young and hardly even looked at me.

For a long time I felt lonely and abandoned and then one day you were no longer a child, but a woman with a voice like hers and a face that was more kind than beautiful. You gave me one of the best rooms in the house and came to visit with me every single day unless you were off traveling somewhere. I never spoke to you but I wanted to tell you so much about Christina and the girl. I have a sense that you would like my stories about them if only I were able to tell them. Sadly I do not know exactly how to begin nor do I even have the voice to do so.

Christina’s house was in the woods. The lights that she had were not like yours. They were dim and smelled of candle wax and oil. She hardly ever sat quietly contemplating like you do. I’m fairly certain that she was unable to read. She was a hardy soul who did what she had to do without complaint. Her life was what it was and she was content.

The girl on the other hand worried a great deal. She seemed to dwell on the possibility of tragedy overtaking her life. Maybe that is because it so often did. She was quite young when her first husband died leaving her to raise her children alone in a time when there wasn’t much likelihood of a woman earning a decent living. Even after she met your grandfather she brooded incessantly but she always smiled when she saw me. I hope I reminded her of the times when she was still carefree and both of us were still young.

It broke my heart to see how damaged she was by her son’s death. He was her pride and joy. She never really mended after that. Maybe that’s why she sent me to you. Perhaps she felt that I would be living in a happier place and she not longer had it in her to pretend that all was well. Maybe she merely sensed that something was wrong long before anyone diagnosed her cancer. Anyway she somehow wisely knew that you would be good to me. It’s been quite nice sharing your home with you.

Some people might only see me as an object, and an old one at that. You have never treated me that way. You have always understood that I am an important part of your history and so you cherish me even though I am a shadow of what I once was.

I sit across from you on the wooden secretary that is almost as old as I am. I am silent when I so wish to speak. I once was at the center of family life as I held water or milk for lovely meals. The roses painted on my white porcelain finish were as bright and colorful as the life that I lived back then. Now I am antique whose value lies not in what I do, but in my age. I am confused by a world so different from the one in which I first lived. Times have changed and I do not always understand what is happening around me. It is only because you seem to appreciate me that I feel safe and loved. I am a pitcher, a container, a repository of the love and laughter, sorrow and hard times through which I have existed. Like Christina and the girl you too are now part of who I am. I only hope that one day someone like you will still want me. Perhaps it will be one of those boys or girls to whom you have introduced me. I hope so.

A Treasure Trove

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There is no telling what might lie inside the folds of a woman’s purse, particularly when it is a rather large one. In my own case a handbag becomes a repository for all sorts of “just in case” provisions. Of course I carry the usual suspects regularly like wallet, phone, keys, reading glasses. For quick trips I don’t need much more than that, but if I’m going to be away from home for a time I need to include some ibuprofen just in case my knees begin to ache or I feel the threat of a migraine. I almost always need a comb to rearrange my fine hair that blows into a kind of bird’s nest at the slightest provocation from wind. I generally include a pair of sunglasses to shade my eyes from the bright rays of the sun and then there’s a tube of lipstick to brighten my countenance after a long day.

In truth I prefer the “less is more” version of packing a purse these days. It’s uncomfortable to lug a heavy load around as I do my errands. I find myself cleaning out extraneous items more and more often but when I was younger my purse was akin to a hardware store. I never left home without a repair kit for my classes and a sewing kit to men loose buttons or an unexpected tear in my clothing. I carried a little notebook for writing down things that I wanted to remember or lists of things that I needed. I toted tiny cans of hairspray and a little pouch filled with first aid items. I’d bring along my checkbook and a supply of pencils and pens. In winter I included gloves and chapstick. If the purse was large enough I might even bring a book or my laptop. Like a girl scout I was ready for virtually anything.

When I was still a fledgling mom I’d have toys and bags of snacks inside my purse, maybe even little bottles of water or milk. I’d bring extra changes of clothing for the little ones just in case of an accident. My bag was like a magician’s prop, holding anything that would feed or entertain my girls. There was no telling what may lie inside.

I used to go to the movies with my mom. She was from the old school when twenty five cents got her a ticket and a little snack. The ever rising prices of things astounded her and so she found ways to save on the cost of entertainment by getting me to hide candy and such in my purse. In between her own handbag and mine we were able to bring in some rather amazing things. On one occasion she asked me to stow away some fried chicken and two cans of Coke in the folds of my handbag while she smuggled in homemade popcorn. I have to admit that there was something rather exciting about the adventure of it all and we no doubt had the best food of anyone in the theater.

After 9/11 it became less and less acceptable or advisable to carry half of a household inside a purse. I’ve lost cans of hairspray, pocket knives, nail clippers and all sorts of things during searches. I’ve learned to carefully check the contents of my purse before leaving home lest I lose something that I value. Some places insist on clear bags or pocketbooks so small that only the most essential items will fit. I don’t grumble too much because it’s all in the name of safety but I sometimes worry that I’ll get caught short in an emergency situation.

I honestly don’t know how men get by with only pockets to hold their essentials. I suppose it works because their clothing is made quite differently. I have few outfits with sewn in pouches large enough to carry even the most basic things that I need whenever I leave home. My keys would take up most of the room and my phone would undoubtedly fall out of my jeans and trousers. My dresses have no compartments at all. To eliminate purses the fashion designers would have to rethink the way they make women’s clothing. It would be revolutionary and perhaps not so popular among the ladies.

I’m a fan of nice purses but I draw the line after a certain price. I’ve been in stores where the handbags cost more than my refrigerator, and while they are lovely I can’t imagine making such an investment in an item that I will probably want to replace within a year. Besides, I don’t want to be lugging something around that makes me a target for thieves.

My favorite purse of all time was one that my husband bought for me in Estes Park, Colorado. We found it in a little shop called Craftsmen in leather. The owner designed and made each handbag with magnificent skill. It was a thing of beauty that I treasured and it lasted far longer than any such item that I have ever owned. Sadly a leaky ink pen did a number on it one day, damaging the color and suppleness of the leather. When I returned to the little shop in hopes of replacing it with a new one, I learned that the man who had so lovingly crafted fine objects had retired and sold the place to new owners. The newer proprietors had kept the name of the store but filled it with horrid manufactured pieces that did not come close to the quality that I longed to find. I still dream of one day finding another purse like that one on ebay.

I suppose that like most women I enjoy a cute and comfortable pair of shoes and a nicely made purse but these days I find that I am more and more able to fit whatever I think I may need into a smaller and smaller parcel. I’ve lightened the weight on my shoulder and opted more and more for practicality. Still, there is nothing like a truly fine purse. It creates a kind of signature for an outfit and helps to define a woman’s personality. Even better is that looking inside of it can a be a real treasure hunt.

Walking Canvases

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Fashion is an art form, a way of expressing oneself with hair and clothing. There are really no rules when it comes to the way we present ourselves, but we are generally guided by the mores of the times. Fashion often becomes the subject of controversy, particularly in traditional institutions like offices, churches and schools. We tend to be judgmental when it comes to fashion, often preferring more traditional ways of adorning ourselves. As with language there are certain unwritten but widely known and mostly accepted ways of dressing in particular circumstances. Sometimes we demand more formality and other times we allow great variance from the norm. Even in the most casual situations we sometimes cringe at the sight of extremes that are unlike what we are accustomed to seeing. We forget that fashion is ultimately a very personal thing as we attempt to foist our own preferences on others in a critical and sometimes even persecutory way.

There was a time when both men and women regularly wore flowing robes. Even today there are cultures in which even males don what may appear to be a kind of dress. In the seventeenth century kings and potentates wore long curly wigs, makeup, stockings and high heeled pumps. Mankind has always experimented with fashion so why do we find ourselves freaking out whenever someone does not conform to our own thoughts on how to dress?

We’ve heard about the young man from the Barber’s Hill school district who was told that his dreadlocks were too long. He was informed that unless he cut them he would not be allowed to walk with his classmates for graduation. Those who know him admit that he actually looks quite nice and that he is a good and respectful person. Nonetheless the authorities took the stance that rules are rules and he must abide by them or suffer the consequences. My question is why there should even be such a rule? It is highly doubtful that the length of someone’s hair whether male or female would detract from the ceremony in any way. If there is any sort of distraction it has been invented by the powers that be, not this young man.

We get a bit crazy from time to time and create more furor or silly things like appearance than need be. I recall attending an assembly during school hours when I was in high school whose only purpose was to harangue the girls about the volume of their bouffant hair, the length of their skirts, and the need to wear white socks with their shoes. What our teachers did not seem to realize was that the meeting was a total waste of time that we actually appreciated because it allowed us to have a break from our classes. Beyond that we were all joking and laughing about the ridiculousness of it all.

The truth is that the ways in which we choose to adorn ourselves are always superficial. They do not define us nor do they really matter. We may roll our eyes at what we see as the ridiculous of a young man struggling to walk as his oversized pants hang around his knees, but other than demonstrating what we may see as bad taste he actually hurts nobody. We certainly have the right to tell him that such clothing is inappropriate in particular situations but we would do well to consider whether or not our attention to such matters is worth the time and effort that we will have to expend to gain his compliance. In other words, what difference will it make?

I once had a student who insisted on wearing a belt with a skull on the buckle in defiance of a school rule. He never personally gave me a problem. He came to my class ready to work. He was polite, paid attention, and participated in the activities I had planned. He was always a top student, rarely making a grade below a B. Somehow that skull on his belt was no bother at all when it came to his academics and yet it became such a sticking point with one of the administrators of the school that it resulted in his being expelled. While I agreed that the student’s noncompliance was indeed over the top I could not help but wonder if the furor created by the assistant principal was much ado about nothing. Rules should somehow make sense, be meaningful and this one confounded me.

We each have personal preferences for adorning ourselves. Tattoos are all the rage among those younger than I am. While I have no desire whatsoever to ink my skin the younger set sees tattoos as a way of celebrating individuality, relationships, accomplishments. To them adorning their skin with art is as natural as purchasing a piece of jewelry or a new pair of shoes. It’s not my cup of tea, but it does not bother me in the least if someone else decides to adorn his/her body with imagery. I would only tell anyone thinking of getting a tattoo to consider what it may look like when the skin ages and wrinkles. I would suggest that placing permanent art anywhere on the body might lead to regret later on, so a bit of circumspection might be in order. Beyond that there are far more important things to dwell upon.

Each of us is unique. We like different things. We express ourselves in the way we dress. In some ways we are living art. Some of us emulate the old masters and others trend toward the avant garde. Our appearance all too often becomes the manner in which we are perceived, but in truth it’s what is inside our minds that should matter. It’s how we treat people that should be the metric that determines our fates. Beyond that let each one celebrate individuality however he or she may choose. Our world is made more beautiful by celebrating the canvases known as self.