The Golden Girl

blur bokeh bright burnt
Photo by john paul tyrone fernandez on Pexels.com

I have the most amazing friends! Their posts on Facebook invariably make my day. They seem to have a direct view into my heart and the things that matter to me. I suppose that we are friends because our spirits are kindred in one way or another and they often humble me with their wit and wisdom. There are so many days when they target the very concerns that are consuming my heart without ever realizing that they have hit such a tender target. A few mornings ago I shared several of the memes and stories that they posted because they were exactly what I needed in that moment.

Among them was a heartfelt admission from one of my former students, a young woman who in many ways had been a kind of “golden girl” in her class. I met her when she was a freshman in high school and was immediately taken by her obvious charisma. She was beautiful then and had become even more so in the ensuing years as maturity gave her a kind of polish. Intellectually she was outstanding in every sense. Her academic acumen was sharp and I saw her as a deeply gifted and talented individual. While her forte was writing, she was nonetheless one of the best in virtually every subject, easily rising to the top levels among her peers. Amazingly she was also a natural born leader who had the ability of assessing any situation and taking charge with a kind of ease. As if all of that were not enough, she was incredibly kind and compassionate, a trait that did not escape the notice of both her teachers and her classmates.

This magnificent person became a student at the University of Texas where she struggled a bit to find herself. Eventually she came back home to Houston and spent some time reassessing who and what she wanted to be in her life. She worked to put herself through college at the University of Houston and in the process developed managerial skills from her jobs. After earning her degree the KIPP Charter schools hired her to work in development. She brought so much heart and understanding of the organization and its goals that she has risen rather rapidly though the ranks. Her ascendancy does not surprise me at all because she is one of those rockstar individuals who consistently shines even in a crowd.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting this young woman for dinner. In a turn that speaks to her thoughtfulness she presented me with a replica World Series ring from one of the Houston Astro’s game that she had attended. She had noticed that I did not have one and that I had expressed my desire to get one from a silly post that I had placed on Facebook. While everyone else ignored my audacious request, she had taken it to heart thus proving to me what I already knew about her. She is the whole package, a woman with enormous gifts and and even bigger heart.

I had thought that nothing about this woman would amaze me because I deeply understood her talents and her drive. One morning when I was reading the offerings on my Facebook newsfeed I found the following post from her:

I have been meaning to write this post for a while, but haven’t because I’ve never been one to put my business, good or bad, on social media. But I want to share this because I have come to terms with it. I have suffered from depression, I can’t tell you when it started, but I do know it went unspoken for longer than it should have. I thought that what I was feeling was normal, that the thoughts I had were normal. It wasn’t until I opened up to a friend about what I felt and what I thought that I realized how wrong I was. I was urged to talk, to seek help so I did. I started taking anti-depressants and sleep medication. A year and half later, things are better… most of the time. What people need to understand about depression is that it doesn’t have “a look”, you can’t always tell when someone is dealing with depression. Most of us live with it and are trying our best to get through it, we have good days. But some days are worse than others, and it’s more than just being sad and no we can’t just “snap out of it.” Yes I tried exercise, I tried meditation, I tried talking, I tried everything I could think of and some of it helped. At the end of the day I have accepted that this will come and go, that I needed to take the good days as wins and know that bad days will pass. I may not be the best at dealing with this, but I am dealing with it and I’m here for anyone who has questions, who needs someone to talk to or who just needs someone to listen.

I was literally overwhelmed with admiration and gratitude upon reading this post. In one moment she had proven herself to be even more remarkable than even I, one of her most ardent admirers, had ever dreamed. I fully understood how much courage it had taken for her to expose herself to potential criticism for I have witnessed so much ignorance about depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses in my own efforts to educate the public. In a single paragraph my lovely student perfectly described what life is like for those afflicted with diseases that invade the mind. I am over the moon in awe of her, and I have shared her words with others whom I know who have also walked in the shadows and confusion and loneliness of depression. Her beautiful description of her journey to health has already helped people that she does not even know to face their own battles.

We often see individuals who appear to be as perfect as anyone might be without realizing the challenges that they actually face. The beauty of my student and now adult friend is that she understood how much good would come from admitting to the struggle that she has endured. I feel that I am now one of her pupils learning what true determination and strength actually is. I am so grateful to know her. She is even more remarkable than I dreamed.

Advertisements

Policing Our Information

advertisements batch blur business
Photo by brotiN biswaS on Pexels.com

Long ago I was a daily subscriber to The Houston Post, a newspaper that ceased to exist after a time. It’s competitor, The Houston Chronicle, had never had great appeal to me, but in the aftermath of the Post’s failure I began to have the Chronicle delivered to my house each day. When I moved to a new home about thirteen years ago I was so busy with work and other responsibilities that I decided to only sign up for weekend delivery. Even then I hardly had the time to stop to read all of the Sunday sections. The paper often lined the bottom of my trash can without ever having been adequately digested. With the advent of online news sources I was more likely to sit with my laptop on my knees while I sipped on my morning tea and munched on my breakfast. I eventually decided to stop the delivery of a newspaper to my home and instead subscribe to national sources offering coverage on my computer.

A couple of Sundays ago when I visited with my in-laws I noticed a copy of the Sunday Houston Chronicle lying on their kitchen counter. I was horrified to see how much it had shrunk in size. It looked more like something that might be distributed on college campuses by the journalism students than the local news source of the fourth largest city in the United States. I suppose that it has come to this dire end because of people like me who abandoned the paper when it became more of a vehicle for want ads and inserts from merchants than a purveyor of good quality information. In fact, such appears to be the fate of many newspapers around the country.

It makes me sad to watch the demise of good old fashioned reporting in local papers because there was a time when I wanted nothing more than to be a journalist. I dreamed of gathering information on the happenings around my city and then writing stories about them. I imagined one day garnering the respect of a byline with my name on it. The thought of being a newspaper reporter sounded exciting and important to me. Never did I imagine that news outlets would find themselves struggling to stay afloat, even in places with large populations. I did not conceive of a revolution in electronic reporting that would displace almost all but the most notable newspapers with online information delivered to computers in nanoseconds.

Not even when I got my first home computer was I able to foresee the future as it unfolded. Things changed so quickly that I hardly noticed what was happening. In the nineteen nineties when I was earning an advanced degree my professors urged me to learn about email and the Internet. Both methods were still clunky and not so easy to use, but I proudly complied and thought of myself as being modern and adventurous. By the turn of the century things were progressing online at warp speed and inventive minds were finding more and more ways to simplify the process of garnering information so quickly and easily that even small children learned how to use the worldwide web. It was a brave new world that was exciting and intoxicating, and it was being used more and more often in ways that most of us never thought possible.

Suddenly we were instantly linked to people all around the world with only a few keystrokes. Those old fashioned news sources made of paper that invariably contained old information by the time they were delivered seemed outdated and inconvenient and even overpriced given that they were so late in providing us details about the world’s happenings. I suppose that only those who contrived ways to stay relevant have remained robust, and even they must worry that the day may come when the marvelous invention of the printing press will seem as insignificant as a horse drawn plow or a buggy, the kind of things relegated to museums.

When Facebook came along it was initially the domain of college students, a way to get to know and communicate with more people than ordinary means allowed. By sharing photos and messages it was supposed to bring people together, and for a time that’s mostly what it did. Eventually adults long past their younger years entered the fray, and users began to realize the power of the comments on those walls. Facebook became a vehicle for presenting points of view, and setting up discussions. It was almost inevitable that it would also be a way of sharing news stories and political opinions. Editorializing and propaganda and stories whose veracity was questionable found their way onto people’s feeds without even asking. With information flooding in from hundreds of unnamed sources it became more and more necessary to fact check virtually everything that appeared on the Facebook walls. It also lead to abuses by information gathering sources that then used their data to target certain users with political propaganda.

By now everyone has heard the accusations of attempts by the Russians to influence the 2016 presidential election by using Facebook and other outlets to spread false information. Mark Zuckerberg has defended his organization by noting that his original intent was to do good by bringing people together, and to that end he did not want to become a judge and jury for who and what should appear in the newsfeeds of his billions of users. Nonetheless he has been criticized for not being more vigilant in monitoring the information that subscribers send and see on their walls.

I’m rather libertarian when it comes to any form of censoring. I find the idea of having someone determining what I may see on my Facebook page to be far more frightening than knowing that some of what is there is false and misleading. I would prefer taking the time to fact check on my own than to be limited by some kind of algorithmic board that scans the offerings and comments. While I understand that there is some exceedingly contemptible and frightening information being passed along as truth, I stand by the idea that it is up to each of us individually to decide what we choose to accept as fact versus fiction. In fact, I think that even if Facebook were to totally change it’s standards tomorrow by only allowing greetings and photos of family and puppies there would still be places where shenanigans rule.

Teachers have told me for my entire lifetime to beware of propaganda which may be found even in old fashioned newspapers and on television and in the speeches of our politicians. We’ve had the rainmakers and traveling medicine peddlers forever. Those who bang on drums and attempt to fool us into believing fake ideas have been around since the beginning of time, and one way or another we humans have had to be careful not to fall for their snake oil routines. It’s in our own best interests to always and without exception be wary. If something sounds too incredible to be true, it’s possible that it actually is a tactic to mislead us. There are so many ways to unfold the veracity of ideas, and we have to learn how to use them before following our emotions rather than our reason. We must always be willing to determine fact rather than opinion, truth rather than lies. We shouldn’t require Facebook to be our police and more than we asked that of our old newspapers. That’s why we have the ability to think. Let’s put that talent to use rather than asking a stranger to do it for us.

A Chance Meeting

close up of human hand
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Maybe I’m just a cockeyed optimist but I am slowly but surely seeing signs that there are more and more folks who are ready to ditch the incivility and fighting in our society and join together in bipartisan ways to repair the wounds that plague our society. I can only hope that we are about to turn a corner, and I don’t want to get overly excited just yet. Still I like some things that I am observing.

A Facebook post from one of the local television stations reported a chance meeting of Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz at a Houston airport as they were both traveling to Washington D.C. for the current session of Congress. A young woman from Texas A&M spotted them in the encounter and was overjoyed to note that Beto walked up to Cruz and offered his congratulations on his reelection to the Senate. It was a grand gesture given that Cruz’ opponent had been Beto himself. The two men than conversed pleasantly without any sign of recrimination. They young woman sensing the importance of the moment even persuaded the two leaders to pose together for a photograph with her.

There was great joy on social media that such an occurrence had transpired. Folks commented that it was refreshing to witness old fashioned manners, something that has been sorely missing for some time. The level of support for civility indicated to me that most of us are truly fed up with the ugliness that has so dominated discussions and attempts to tackle our current problems. It is as though we all understand that rigid partisanship gets us nowhere.

Mitch McConnell claims to be ready to work with Democrats. Nancy Peolosi says that rebuilding infrastructures and relationships is a great place to start. Fox News joined in efforts to get Jim Acosta readmitted to Whitehouse press briefings. There is a kind of quiet revolution attempting to take hold and I for one pray that it will become the new wave. I seriously think that it is bad for everyone to have a combative environment festering front and center all of the time. We have to rebuild trust and demonstrate that we understand that in the end we are all connected by the same desire for good lives for ourselves and our children. The main differences are to be found in how we hope to achieve things, and those are the areas that can be made to work as long as we understand that compromise is not an innately bad thing. Sometimes it is the means of incrementally changing for the good of all.

Progress and change is often slow, and perhaps there is a reason for that. It is in some of our natures to be cautious. While others want to be “gung ho” risk takers in getting things done. What we have surely learned is that some values are grand and to be cherished and others become outdated as we learn more about the world around us. Surely there are ways to move forward, but with some circumspection. We know from our individual lives that nothing is ever perfect, and sometimes we have to adjust because of that. Clinging to old ways can be lethal, but so can running headlong over a cliff without thinking about the consequences.

We really do need many types of people shepherding our decisions and our laws. There is nothing wrong with questions or suggestions that maybe we have been wrong in our thinking. It is possible to debate for all the right reasons rather than destroying simply for the sake of power. We need fewer waves of agreement and more willingness to back away in order to view the big picture. We don’t need Democrats or Republicans as much as we need the best people who want to work for all of us.

In the most recent elections something rather sad occurred. Because of the current tendency to judge the quality of a political candidate more on party than beliefs there was a great deal of lever pulling. Many voters disregarded the individuality of each person running for office and instead voted only on party lines. A very good man was caught up in that trend in Harris County Texas. His name is Ed Emmett and he had done a yeoman’s job as the County Judge for many years. In particular he was brilliant during both hurricane Ike and hurricane Harvey. Even those of us who do not live in his county relied on him for leadership, and he never let us down. Sadly he was defeated by a young woman who is only twenty seven years old and has not even lived in Texas for very long. Her resume only includes degrees in Political Science and a few ideas about flood control. She has no experience looking after millions of citizens during a disaster and yet she won mostly because so many of the voters pulled the Democrat lever without even thinking that they were unseating a very qualified and good man from a position in which he had consistently performed well and without partisan considerations. I now worry about what will happen if and when another disaster comes our way.

We are weary as a nation. We know that the way we have been behaving feels very wrong. It’s time that we understand that it is good to see Beto and Cruz talking with one another. Working together for the common good has been the secret to the success of our nation throughout its history. It’s time that we return to the days of bipartisan thinking. I hope the small signs that I am seeing will lead us that way. 

Filling the Cracks With Gold

gold-ingots-golden-treasure-47047.jpegIn Japan a broken object is often repaired with gold. The flaw is viewed as a unique piece of the object’s history which makes it more beautiful. Unknown Author

I am admittedly a control freak, so when things break or go awry I tend to freak out. I prefer routine, everything in its place. I suppose that my obsessive compulsive tendencies are derived from my father’s death when I was a very young child, a time when I felt my world spinning out of control so much so that I worried that my future would forever be horrific. Of course that did not happen, but I have had my share of unwelcome and difficult events, so much so that I prefer stability over excitement.

That being said, there is always seems to be something beautiful and unexpected that comes from even the most devastating tragedies. After my father died my brothers and I became more intensely close, and our mother made certain that we would feel safe by moving to a wonderfully wholesome neighborhood. I lived in this almost idyllic place until I was an adult. The friendships that I enjoyed there as a child are still rock solid strong. The beautiful memories that I made at a time when I had worried that my life was surely over have been the gold that repaired my broken heart.

I find that this occurs again and again just when I begin to waver and worry too much. It happened when our hot water heater overflowed and flooded part of the house. Even though I was happy that we were home and able to limit the damage, I began to fret over all of the dire possibilities of the things that might take place. Since all aspects of the repairs have taken far more time than I had thought that they would. I literally began having anxiety attacks at night because I was certain that mold was growing in the walls of my home and that it would become a toxic waste dump. I imagined all sorts of scenarios while we waited for insurance adjusters and repairmen.

Of course, as it turned out things began to fall back into place bit by bit. We have a nice new hot water heater and we have chosen new carpet that will be installed once the walls and the door frames and other things that were damaged are once again as good as new. While the experts take care of all of that, I have been moving things out of closets and packing them away in the garage so that the rooms will be ready for the carpet. In the process I encountered a box of photos and papers that I had stashed away long ago. The items had sat unnoticed for quite some time, so I decided to cull through them to decide what I wanted to keep. In the process I found the names of my grandfather’s parents. It was like discovering gold on my property because I had grown up knowing very little about him. He had died before I was born and my mother had no information about her own grandparents because her father was an immigrant from Austria Hungary in the area now known as Czechoslovakia and so was her mom.

I was so excited by my discovery that I posted something about it on Facebook and a few minutes later a cousin called to verify that my information was correct and that she had even more. I am now able to trace my ancestry back to my great great grandparents, all because I was forced to moved things so that workers might set things aright in my home. Had it not been for the accidental leaking of the hot water heater there is no telling how long that box that contained the key to my ancestry might have languished. Once again the broken object ended up being a golden moment, a beautiful light on my past.

I have friends who are far more faith filled than I am. They don’t worry as much because they just know that there is a vast eternal plan that is working as it was meant to be. I suppose that they have fewer middle of the night panic attacks than I do, or conversations with God that sound more like that between a parent and a recalcitrant child. My experience has proven that I am never alone, and yet I out doubt Thomas over and over again. I suppose that it is just my nature, but I must surely drive those who have to put up with me a bit crazy at times.

Luckily I always seem to find my way back, and realize that I have never really had it so bad. My life is probably about average compared to most. I lost people that I love, but so has everyone else, and in some cases their tragedies have been so much worse. I happened to get a hint about my all time favorite uncle when I was putting in the new names of my great grandparents on my ancestry.com family tree. The document that Ancestry found was his death certificate and its details made my heart weep for my aunt and for my uncle’s parents. He was only thirty one years old, and an only child. The sarcoma that began in his leg had metastasized to his lungs and other major organs. He left behind an infant daughter. I thought of how bereft everyone must have been. I was only five at the time and I felt as though my heart had been shattered. My father was never quite the same after his best friend had died. Somehow all of my trials and tribulations put together did not seem as harsh as this, and I chided my self for temporarily rolling in self pity.

The broken parts of my life have always healed and made me strong and resilient. I see the cracks and the scars, but they make me more beautiful, for surely they make me more compassionate. I truly understand what it is to hurt and to be afraid, but I also know that the human spirit is far more courageous than we think. The gold that always seems to come after the worst times is real and it is lovely.

Resilience

21766401_1868966163120008_6720605651907966418_nI’ve written a great deal about the massive floods that inundated the city of Houston a month ago. The national media has featured multiple stories from varying points of view about the tragedy that befell my town. We will be working to rebuild for years and debating how best to prevent such destruction in the future for an even longer time. To say that all of us who live in Houston and surrounding areas have been deeply affected by what happened is an understatement. What has struck me most is the courage and resilience of the people with whom I share my part of the world as well as the outpouring of support and love that has been showered on us. I thought that I had written about most of the main themes regarding this event and its impact on human nature until I saw a photo from one of my Facebook friends that moved me so strongly that I have not been able to erase that image from my mind.

I still think of the woman who posted the picture as the little girl who lived across the street from me many years ago. She spent so many hours inside my house playing with my two daughters. She was always a very sweet child and I never minded having her around. She seemed to be smiling even in her sleep and she possessed a pleasant optimism about life that just felt so good. Her name is Priscilla and I never really forgot how much I liked her as the years marched by and we lost touch.

Eventually through the power of social media we found each other on Facebook and became friends again. I learned that she was happily married and had a handsome son of whom she was understandably proud. She lives in the same part of town that I do, and so one Christmas season I met up with her and my two daughters at a local restaurant. We celebrated our reunion with hours of conversation and recollections of happy memories. Now and again I encounter Priscilla at stores and eateries, but mostly I keep track of her via the Internet, and I enjoy hearing of her adventures with her family.

Not too long ago Priscilla made a move to her dream home in Pearland, a suburb of Houston. She excitedly kept her friends apprised of the decorating and landscaping that she and her husband undertook to make their house special. I was excited for her and enjoyed seeing all of the updates. So it was with a very heavy heart that I learned that Priscilla’s home was among those flooded by hurricane Harvey. In fact, the place took on water on the first day of the massive rains. It broke my heart to think of the sadness and fear that she must have been feeling.

I had forgotten that Priscilla is one of those people who is a survivor by nature. In almost no time she had managed to find a safe hotel in which to ride out the rest of the storm. She did her best to remain upbeat even in the face of so much uncertainty. It was as though she was more concerned about easing the fears of the rest of us than concentrating on her own fate. She kept us posted so that we would know that she and her family were secure and she exuded a confident belief that ultimately all would end well for them.

Almost as soon as the storms had moved from our area she was back at her house doing the work of cleaning out all of the muck that had found its way inside. She continued to send communications showing the progress that she and her family were making, somehow finding ways to joke about the pile of debris that grew and grew on their lawn. She always managed to allay our anxieties with photos of the cleaned out rooms now devoid of half of the sheetrock and all of the flooring. In essence she and her family had taken the place down to the studs, at least on the bottom half of the rooms.

I laughed at images of Priscilla’s garage which now housed a big screen television, a few lawn chairs, a barbecue smoker and a toilet. Priscilla had noted with a hint of sarcasm that the scene was about as redneck as one might ever get. She remained upbeat, at least publicly, and it was among the few times that I smiled rather than cried over what I witnessed after the storm.

Last week Priscilla posted an image that seemed to capture her spirit and that of my hometown. She and her family had moved back into their house even though there was still much work to be done. With a great deal of imagination she and her husband had created a makeshift kitchen that was a true sight to behold. The bottom cabinets were gone as was the flooring and even the sink. Only the sheetrock had been replaced. Instead of the normal amenities there were long folding tables serving as countertops, clear plastic bins providing cabinet storage, a camping sink acting as a station for washing dishes, and a new stainless steel stove gleaming like a beacon of hope. That photo spoke of Priscilla’s fighting spirit and resilience and at the moment that I saw it, she became for me the symbol of all that is good in our town. Hers was the story that I knew I needed to tell.

There is no doubt that Priscilla and so many others have suffered in ways that should not have happened. We all understand that we must address concerns about climate change, shoring up of levees around neighborhoods, improvements to dams, aggressive building in flood plains, increased attention to drainage systems and so forth. In our quest to reflect on what happened we cannot forget to applaud the human spirit that Priscilla so embodies. Rather than complaining or waiting for someone else to help, she and her family did indeed pull themselves up by their bootstraps. They tackled the hard work and found ways to make do until their world is rebuilt once again. They are models of how to react with positivity and inspiration in hard times.

I wish that Priscilla’s story and photos would be shared until they become viral because hers is a lesson that we all should strive to follow. Life is a series of events both wonderful and sometimes even horrific. We have little ability to control many things, but we always are in charge of how we react. Priscilla has chosen faith and joy and hope. We are all the better for seeing her example, and we somehow know that she will find a way to be just fine. We’d all do well to emulate her spirit. I’m thankful that she has been willing to share her journey. I know that I am humbled by what I have seen and I vow to attempt to be as resilient as she most assuredly is.