Silent Heroes

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We love our children. Parents dream of helping their offspring to live glorious lives filled with joy, success, and love. Teachers play a huge role in the journey of a youngster into adulthood. We put our educators under a microscope, judging their every interaction with our youth. Each day in classrooms across the globe men and women accept the awesome challenge of educating the adults of the future. The work is both daunting and rewarding. Teachers quietly and tirelessly perform their duties without a great deal of encouragement. In fact we are more often likely to hear criticisms of their mistakes than compliments of their dedication. Nonetheless teachers carry on with their vocations even when the conditions are difficult, the pay is subpar to other professions, and the evaluations of their worth in society are not indicative of the enormous sacrifices and contributions that they make.

Teachers are often told that theirs is a last resort occupation that is the solution for those who cannot find anything better to do. They hear snide comments about their short work weeks and three months of vacation. In conversations about improving education they are generally the last persons whose opinions are considered. Instead lawmakers, business people, and an assortment of souls with no experience managing a classroom decide how to run the educational system. Nonetheless our teachers return for insult time and again simply because they have a beautiful secret. They love their profession and they adore their students. No amount of indignation can chase them away. They have a mission that drives their enthusiasm more than money or status.

A tiny virus came along this spring to upend the educational process without warning and along with the chaos that ensued came a pleasant surprise for everyone except those who are teachers. With amazing speed all across the globe educators went into action to create remote classrooms and lessons. They transformed bedrooms and dining rooms into spaces where they might continue to demonstrate their magic. They spent untold hours learning how to manipulate technology. They found ways to bring the needed equipment and conferences to each of their students. They worried over their flocks until they were certain that everyone was present and accounted for. They grieved at the loss of being with their students in person and wondered if their pupils had enough to eat or if they were being abused. They even went on parades inside the neighborhoods that they serve and made efforts to personally congratulate the top graduates in the Class of 2020. Not for one single minute did they forget their students in fact they spent sleepless nights worrying about them.

As moms and dads contended with having their children under foot all day long they began to marvel at the patience of teachers who shepherd whole classrooms of kids and somehow remain calm. The parents realized how complex the concepts and lessons actually are and realized that one would have to be rather bright to explain such things. They began to reconsider the value of teachers in ways that had not before occurred to them. As the long weeks in isolation went by they learned of the many skills and talents that good teachers so humbly provide to society.

In spite of the newfound estimation of the educators of the world many old habits are slow to die. In planning for the reopening of schools at some future date few teachers have been consulted even though they are very people who may have the best answers for the logistical questions. When grateful citizens provide food and gifts for first responders and essential workers they tend to forget the teachers with such rewards. There are even those who wonder why teachers are still being paid since they are just sitting around at home. Some suggest beginning the new school year in July but without any extra pay even though the salary that teachers will receive in that month is part of contracted pay for this past year.

I am and always will be a teacher at heart. I think that mine has been a noble profession that ranks alongside the most needed work in all of society. We have learned during our lockdowns and stay at home orders what is most important in this world. We can live in our pajamas and walk around the house in our bare feet. We can cook for ourselves and find entertainment in very simple things. Slowing our pace has brought us new found joys and realizations of what and who we most need. Our world has become a quieter and less congested and polluted place. We see an opportunity to change some of our habits which may not have been good for us individually or for the world collectively. We stand at a moment of possibilities and among them is a new way of viewing our educational system and our teachers. Perhaps it is time that we acknowledge the wonderful men and women who care for our children as the heroes that they have always been.

Most teachers will tell you that the joy that they feel for their work is not about the money. They will admit that they don’t even need the respect that other occupations provide because there is something innately glorious about having a career that provides so much purpose. Each day for a teacher is a meaningful experience and teachers never forget the students who have passed under their watchful eyes. They think of them and dream of them and worry about them and hope for them. Their ultimate reward is knowing that their efforts have made the world a better place.

May is traditionally the month for acknowledging teachers. Find a way to reach out to the valiant and selfless people who have influenced either you or your children. Try to understand how much love was poured into their work. Let them know how much you value them. They are already planning the future and it will no doubt be very good. Let’s acknowledge them as the silent heroes that they have always been.

A Legacy From My Mother

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It’s a dreary rainy day as I write this. Nature has provided me with a platitudinous kind of feeling and an opening statement that is devoid of originality. The situation in which I find myself is confusing. I keep track of the time and the passage of each day by attempting to create a kind of routine that reminds me of my five year old self when my mother was a stay at home mom and my father was a young man with a promising future.

Back then my mama created a repetitive schedule for herself that I too used to mark the rising and setting of the sun. If I put on my “Monday” underwear in the morning I knew that my mother would be spending the day washing clothes and I would get to help her hang them on the clothesline to dry in the sun. When our things had been warmed by gentle breezes and solar rays we would take them from the wire lines and place them in a wicker basket. Then Mama would show me how to fold each of the clean pieces and together we would put all of them away save for those that required ironing. They were set aside for the Tuesday duties, a task that she demonstrated to me but never allowed me to undertake until I was many years older.

To this day I derive pleasure from a clean load of clothes and I use the methods of ironing that my mom taught me as I watched her deftly sprinkling water from a bottle and then using the heat to remove all of the wrinkles. Of course during this current time of pandemic neither I nor my husband wear clothing that needs to be ironed. We are more likely to don jeans and whichever t-shirts happen to catch our eyes. We don’t even worry about losing socks from the monsters inside the washing machine and dryer that eat such items. Our feet are mostly bare and as free as they were on summer days when we were children. Our freedom nonetheless is constrained by an invisible virus that keeps us at home and causes me to remember each day of my mother’s seemingly confining routine. 

After the laundry chores of Monday and Tuesday my mother allocated Wednesday to sewing and mending, a task that was more creative and interesting to her. She was quite clever with cloth and made most of the dresses that I wore along with those for herself. I always enjoyed accompanying her to choose the fabric and look at the pattern books from Simplicity and McCalls. Mama was quite meticulous with her measuring and if a seam was not perfect she would rip out the threads and begin again. Everything had to lie just so. Her finished products were worthy of the tailors on Savile Row and if I was lucky she would design lovely clothing for my dolls with the extra fabric.

My mom worked in the yard on Thursdays even in the winter. There was always a flowerbed to be weeded, a plant to be fed, or a tree to be trimmed. She was not quite as gifted with a green thumb as my Grandma Little, but her yard was always stunning. She liked climbing vines that flowered in spring and old fashioned shrubs like gardenias. She grew fig trees and pear trees and then used the fruit to make jams and other delights. I loved those Thursdays when we spent whole days outside putting our hands in dirt and delighting at the sounds of the birds.

Friday was house cleaning day, a time when Mama prepared for the weekend. She was as particular with cleaning a toilet as she was with her sewing. The process had to be done just right and as I watched she would demonstrate the proper manner of reaching every nook and cranny in which germs might lurk.

Fridays were quite busy because we changed the sheets, dusted the furniture, swept and mopped all of the floors. I had a job even though I was only five. I was very serious about dusting the wooden surfaces of everything in our home. I dared not miss a single inch because I felt so wonderful when my mother complimented my efforts.

Fridays also meant an evening at my Grandma Ulrich’s house. All of my aunts and uncles and cousins would gather there as well. We had a raucous time with the adults playing poker and the kids inventing games of every sort. I treasured those times then and to this day they remain one of the most wonderful aspects of my life.

On Saturday we would go shopping with my father. It was a day filled with fun and surprises. My father often wanted to buy new records for his collection and so we would visit a music store where they allowed us to preview the recordings before purchasing them. I so enjoyed putting on the headsets and listening to my father’s selections while sitting in between my mom and dad.

We’d always end our adventures with a visit to the grocery store that was filled with the aroma of baking bread and coffee being ground by machines. My father always convinced my mother to add some cookies or ice cream to the cart and he would smile knowingly at me as though we were co-conspirators in some plot.

Sunday somehow felt more like the end of the week to me than the beginning. We attended mass at St. Peter’s Church and then visited my father’s parents. My grandmother almost always took me and my mother on a tour of her yard which was as glorious as a photo spread in Southern Living magazine. Then Grandma would finish up cooking a spectacular meal while I had the privilege of setting the dining table with her china and silver. We’d end up sitting on the front porch talking of life and watching the neighbors parade down the sidewalk on their afternoon walks.

I suppose that I have kept my sanity during this time of isolation by emulating my mother’s habits. I keep track of each day by creating a kind of schedule. I give myself regular chores to do and routine tasks to perform. I make certain that I set aside a time for reading, and even more for writing. I have a washing day and a cleaning day, a lesson planning day and a teaching day. I insist on exercising and walking on my treadmill even though doing so only reminds me of the sameness of quarantine. I call people that I know each day to see how they are doing and to let them know that I am thinking of them. I have devised a sense of order out of a confusing and often chaotic time and it calms me.


These days I often find myself thinking of my mother who so happily and pleasantly performed her household chores while teaching me how to derive pleasure from simple tasks. I don’t recall her ever complaining that she was stuck at home doing jobs that might have seemed meaningless and unimportant had she not tackled them with so much joy and pride. How could I have known way back then that her example would sustain me in a time when I might otherwise have been filled with bitterness at the losses that we have all experienced? This woman who seemed so simple in those times would eventually become a warrior in my eyes as she battled untold tragedies and challenges always with that same gratitude for life that she conveyed to me on those routine days when I was still an adoring child of five.

I know I will endure this COViD-19 experience regardless of where it takes me. I’ve learned from the best how to take each day as it comes and make meaning out of even small endeavors. Regardless of where this all goes my mother’s legacy of  joy will guide me.

Ask Alice

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I suppose it was inevitable that we would all go a bit stir crazy after being shut in for so long. Sadly my own time in lockdown continues as I allow the more anxious folks to test the waters of returning to a more routine way of life. As my hermit existence is extended I have moments when it feels as though I’ve been pulled down a deep and winding rabbit hole that is filled with a level of crazy that makes me want to batten the hatches and hunker down for an interminable time.

Each new day brings almost unbelievable news of folks not handling the pressure of all this too well, but I should not be that surprised because of my decades of working in churches and schools. As the first lay director of the religious education program at my church I was accused of being an agent of the devil simply for having the audacity to take on the task of working with the children of the parish without being a nun. As a teacher and school administrator I’ve been threatened more times than I am able to count and that is just taking the bad behavior of the parents into account. I have learned that while the vast majority of people are level headed and polite there are always outliers who grab the attention with their noise. Most of the time I able to simply ignore their shenanigans but for the moment my patience is wearing thin.

I suppose that I am a cautious individual by nature and I generally admire anyone who is willing to take a few risks but there are indeed moments when discretion is the better part of valor. I can’t think of a more appropriate time in history to demonstrate a bit of sacrifice for the greater good than now. For the most part people are being quite generous in that regard but my patience has worn thin with those who seem to want to make a stink just for the sake of garnering attention. Those people who crowd into the streets refusing to distance themselves or wear masks or follow safety guidelines are exhibiting highly selfish behaviors. I understand their anxieties regarding their need to get back to work, but what difference could it possibly make to wear a mask and stay six feet apart while doing so? They remind me of adolescent students who refuse to follow a school dress code.

I used to tell my pupils that most rules and their punishments are created when people take advantage and push the envelope to the limits. When the behavior gets too bizarre someone invariably stops it with a mandate that includes consequences strong enough to prevent the unwanted action. If people simply thought of why certain dictums come about they might be less inclined to go ballistic over them.

Those of us who are older or have health problems are essentially being urged to stay at home while the rest of the world goes back to work. I don’t mind doing that at all even for an extended period of time if it helps to safely get our economy back on track. On the other hand when I do have to go out and about I want to feel secure and for now that means keeping a distance and wearing masks. I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would have a problem with that. If I am willing to do my part by secluding myself to get things running, then why can’t those who are out on the town demonstrate a bit of understanding of those of us in the more vulnerable groups? Just put on the masks and be done with it!

I also prefer honesty even if it hurts. My Uncle Bob is still one of my all time favorite people because when I saw him attaching his prosthesis to his amputated leg when I was quite young he told me exactly why his leg was gone and what his prognosis was. When he died when I was only six I understood what had happened and I loved him for telling me the truth rather than attempting to sugar coat the situation. He treated me with respect even though I was a child and to this day I prefer such honesty rather than attempts to make me feel better. Thus I am quite disturbed by those who try to downplay the pandemic and its future when nobody knows for sure what will happen. I would prefer hearing all of the possibilities so that I will be prepared for any eventuality. It’s a dangerous thing to give people false hope just to spare their feelings.

When the President of the United States floats promises of rainbow days and unicorns coming soon I am wary. He may be privy to more information that I am but I doubt that the long term outlook is as rosy as he sometimes paints it to be. He needs to encourage the nation to stay the course, make the sacrifices and work together. We’ve done this sort of thing before during the Great Depression and two world wars. He should be encouraging us to have the will to do whatever is needed in the moment, not to wear red caps and create difficulties for governors and mayors who are attempting to protect us. He needs to be honest and humble about how long this might take. We will be far more likely to survive with courage and determination if he models a leadership style that offers hope without unrealistic timelines and guarantees.

We are a nation of good and creative people. We do not need to boast or be selfish. This is a worldwide problem and it will be in working with all nations that the world finds its way back from the edge. It’s time we crawl out of the rabbit hole and back into the light of day, just ask Alice.   

A Time For Healing

It’s far too soon to speak of the Covid-19 pandemic being over. It’s doubtful that we will be able to flip a switch and go back to the normal, at least for a time. There will be a wariness in the air until there are no longer daily outbreaks of the disease and a trustworthy vaccine is available to everyone. Still, we are becoming more and more anxious for that day to come because at heart we enjoy being part of a community. It is in our natures to be productive as well, to have purpose in our lives.

We’ve spent time away from the ebb and flow of the world at large. Our streets have been quieter along with our daily routines. We have had time to think, to meditate, to consider what kind of changes we might want to see in the new normal that will emerge. In some ways we no longer wish to return to the status quo as it once was because in our days of isolation we have realized new possibilities. Our worldwide distancing has in an ironic twist made us somehow feel closer. The individual who dies in Italy is as important to us as the grandfather who does not make it in our hometown.

We have witnessed a simplification in our lives, reminding ourselves of what and who is actually essential. The skies are clearer all over the world and so are our priorities and obligations to share our lives with others. As we enjoy our own blessings we realize how many people it took to make them happen. We may be in a cocoon of safety right now but we survive so pleasantly only because an army of people have worked diligently to keep the supply chain of goods and services running.

We look to our medical community for answers and comfort in time of need and see the immense sacrifices that have always been part of their work. We struggle to keep our children learning and realize the creative and caring presence that teachers have have been even while we often criticized their efforts. That onion or that loaf of bread are suddenly precious commodities brought to us with the backbreaking labor of migrant workers, people that we have sometimes derided in the past. We look to the wonders of technology to keep us connected and pray for the genius of our scientists and engineers to bring us out of this crisis.

We must surely be humbled by this pandemic which has both upended our way of life and demonstrated the amazing human spirit. Heroes that we once thought to be ordinary have emerged with powers more wonderful than Superman. That nurse who dons her battle gear day after day to administer to the dying deserves a Medal of Honor. The drivers who bring food and supplies to vulnerable shut-ins are providing an immeasurable service. The neighbors who look after one another are the very foundation of who we are as people.

We have learned to enjoy simple things. We realize that we do not need as much as we may have thought. The sound of a neighbor playing the violin is lovely enough to make our day. The birds that congregate in our trees are as entertaining as an evening spent on the town. The meals prepared at home are tastier than those at a five star restaurant. Maybe we don’t really need that extra pair of shoes or a new pair of earrings. Instead we might see who around us is struggling and help them to weather this storm.

When we speak of making America great I suspect that we now realize that it will require an acknowledgement that we are indeed members of a global community. A tiny virus has shown us that we cannot escape the fact that when a butterfly flaps its wings in Africa we are all somehow affected. This pandemic was not the fault of any one nation but we are all reeling from it.

Our new big idea should be to look around and see who or what needs help. We must look for ways to use our resources and our privileges more wisely and more universally. We need to consider our young adults who will be inheriting a world greatly changed. We must share our wisdom and work together to overcome the forces of human weaknesses like greed. We also must accept the reality that we are in a symbiotic relationship with the environment and everything we do affects the health of the earth. We humans are not the only ones who are sick, so is nature. It’s time we labor in tandem with our lovely planet.

I hope that we do not soon forget the lessons we have learned in our urgency to open up business as usual. We must be mindful of each other and what is truly important. If we just go back to our closed mindedness and most current tendencies of endless disagreements we will have missed an opportunity to not just recover physically but emotionally and spiritually as well. Now is the time for healing.

Who Are You Staying Home For?

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Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York created a campaign called “Who Are You Staying Home For?” It puts the rationale for our stay at home advisories into perspective because there are valid reasons for each of us to isolate not just for ourselves but for the good of someone else. It got me to thinking about my intentions for keeping to myself for almost five weeks now.

I have to admit that I do not wish to contract Covid-19. I tend to believe that if I were to do so I would survive just fine, but I don’t know that for sure. Exposing myself to the virus would be a kind of Russian roulette that our healthcare workers are forced to endure on a daily basis. They don’t need another case to deal with and so it would be incredibly selfish of me to flaunt the directives and potentially place myself in harms way. So I stay home for all of the dedicated individuals who are responding so valiantly to caring for those unfortunate souls who have somehow caught the virus. I hope that somehow I and others might lighten their load if we manage to stay well.

I’ve also been quite worried about my husband, Mike. He only recently had surgery to correct major blockage in the arteries of his heart. He is doing well but I believe that if he were to catch Covid-19 it would be quite dangerous. He’s seventy two years old with heart disease, a combination that does not bode well for anyone who comes down with the virus. I am vigilantly staying away from any situation that might be a source of the disease. I order all of my groceries and when they arrive I have a routine for disinfecting them that I use religiously. My hands are cracked and quite ugly from all of the washing to which I have subjected them. I am obsessively compulsive about taking all of the precautions quite soberly knowing that if I get flippant and catch Covid-19 there is a good chance that I will infect Mike.

I’m staying home for the people that I have never met who might accidentally catch the virus from me if I become infected and travel brazenly around my neighborhood and my city. I don’t want to be that person who spreads disease because I am unwilling to be careful. I don’t want to be someone who assumes that we are being duped into a draconian situation that is based on some grand hoax. If I flaunt the rules and I am wrong I will only be complicit in prolonging society’s suffering. I’m staying home so that we have a chance at getting back to normal sooner rather than later.

I’m staying home because I truly believe that God has given us the intellect to know what we must do not just to save ourselves but also as many of our fellow humans as possible. He has placed many brilliant doctors and scientists in our midst who believe that if we can flatten the curve of contagion there will be fewer lives lost. Why would I not listen to the experts? Why would I be so arrogant as to believe that without any knowledge of viruses and medicine I know more than those who have studied these things?

I’m staying home for my children and grandchildren so that they will have one less person to worry about because I know that they are indeed concerned about me. I want them to be confident that I am going to be fine because I am not taking any unnecessary risks. Staying inside my house is a very small sacrifice to provide them with a greater sense of well being.

I’m staying home because this virus really is novel. There is so much more that we must learn about it. I want the rise of emergencies to subside enough that those who study such things will have more time to discover the secrets of Covid-19. We have to know exactly how it works and what if anything is capable of stopping it both before and after it happens. I want to help clear the hospital decks so that this kind of work can commence without interruption.

I’m staying home because I know that it is the right thing to do. I understand that sometimes my liberties must be secondary to the good of all. I may have a right to be cavalier but if doing so endangers others then I am wrong to insist on bucking the system.

I’m staying home so that those who have lost their jobs may possibly get back to work sooner rather than later. I understand that we must all make sacrifices and be willing to help each other even when we are once again allowed to emerge into the outside world.. There will be much need for support and I want to be healthy and ready to do my part.

Who are you staying home for?