Where I’m From

I am from the mud-caked running shoes with the fraying laces and worn-out tread

From once Asics, to now Brooks, anything to prevent insanity.

I am from the Johnson Funny Farm in the rural Pike countryside and Guale, the Marshes of Glynn –

Both breathtakingly beautiful,

                 both rechargingly relaxing,

                             each wildly waving Loblolly or Spartina arms.

I am from the free-range eggs

    For which the (not once but twice) almost-murdered rooster mistakenly believes that he is necessary.

I’m from one side that event-izes everything elaborately, the other that celebrates every day simply.

      From Haynes and Johnson.

I’m from the wake-up dog breath full-face kisses of Boo Radley the valiant nightwatch-Schnoodle

       who sleeps with us because Mom’s last words were, “You take good care of these dogs!”

And sleep-tight nights with books piled high throughout the house.

From “Fasten Your Seatbelt!” and “Watch Your Speed – You Know They Hide Up Here!”

I’m from the glass house of a Southern Baptist preacher dad, the closed curtains and deadbolted doors  

of a maddening mother.

I’m “Kimberly – (English) from the royal fortress meadow,”my birth meadow the Okefenokee Swamp,

     cracked pecans, a churn of homemade peach ice cream.

From Georgia Lee and Eunice and Miriam, whose long-gone but lingering voices of dementia prompt

      reluctant visits….  to the pantry….  to be sure…. I can still…. smell the peanut butter.

I am from these haunted corners – holding on to the jagged edges of life,

      sometimes remembering, sometimes wanting to forget, always wishing their voices were still here.
               –  Kimberly Haynes Johnson

               Dr. Johnson’s/Aunt Kim’s Top Ten Ways to Be Successful in College
 

Our nephew is leaving for his junior year of college on this very day, after completing his freshman and sophomore years at a local college while living at home.  This will be his first extended time away on a college campus.  He is loading his Honda Accord and moving into a dorm room at Emmanuel College in North Georgia.  We recently had a family dinner to wish him well on his departure, and it caused me to reflect on the excitement I felt as I left home to go to college.  I am envious, because that stage of life when you have the world at your feet, a backpack on your body, Chacos on your feet and a map in your hand is the truest time of adventure and self-discovery.  There is no other experience like living on a college campus that helps us put the final touches on shaping and refining who we are.  Our values, morals, manners, and beliefs have been formed, and at this point in our lives, we fly solo in understanding what all that means to us.  This is also the school year when I get to see the Class of 2018 graduate.  I’ve looped with them since 7thgrade, and some of them I taught in primary school as well.  As Daulton begins his junior year of college and the Class of 2018 begins their senior year of high school, I want to offer my own version of the Top Ten Ways to Be Successful in College.  While it’s nearly impossible to put them in any prioritized order, I will count down to what I believe is the single most important factor of success in college and in life.   
 

 

10.  Don’t overreact.   Don’t confuse ripples in the surf with tsunamis.  Don’t pack any high school drama in your suitcase.  One of my favorite people in the world, Jill McAden, is a salve for a worried soul.  At a time in my life when every problem I was encountering was new and difficult for me in the road I was walking at the time, Jill came alongside me and absorbed me in a blanket of comfort.  She had been through a divorce and knew what was just ahead for me at every step of the process.  No matter what I shared with her in the ever-unfolding events of my situation, she never reacted with any facial expression, words, or body language that exacerbated my sadness or anger.  She didn’t give me more than 10 seconds to wallow in any form of self-pity or talk negatively about anyone who was upsetting me.  Instead, she turned every conversation into a helpful and guiding experience.  What I saw as tsunamis, Jill only saw as gentle waves.  In college, you will believe that many situations you encounter are tsunamis, when in reality they are only the ebb and flow of the surf at your ankles.  Richard Carlson (1998, p. 87) believes that by thinking of our problems as speed bumps, they begin to look very different and we begin to expect a certain number of them to present themselves at any point in the day.  “Like riding a bike, bumps are simply a part of the experience…..the calmer and more relaxed you remain, the easier it is to maneuver.”  I think of Jill’s approach to problem-solving often, and believe that friends like Jill are the ones that you need along the journey.  Surround yourself with people who refuse to participate in the drama and who focus strategically on what is ahead.  Similarly, I think it’s important to BE that friend and to realize that a loving and supportive friendship spends only a moment acknowledging the existence of a problem and allowing a tear or two.  It really focuses on improving life by remaining calm and looking to the future – seeking a solution and a brighter day ahead. 
 

9.  Need others and be needed by others.  Every Christmas, my book-collecting father gives me a box of books.  He searches throughout the year to find just the right books that he knows I will enjoy, and often writes anecdotal notes in the margins or on note paper and hides them in books for me to discover.  Long after he is gone, he will still be speaking to me through books.  In Leo Buscaglia’s Loving Each Other, the foreword tells the story of a young girl who releases a butterfly impaled on a thorn and is granted three wishes by the butterfly, who has been miraculously transformed into a good fairy.  The little girl wishes for happiness, and the fairy leans forward and whispers the secret to happiness in her ear.  She grows up to be the happiest person in her village for all her days, but as she ages, the neighbors all want to know the secret before it dies with her.  The aged woman smiles and reveals, “The fairy told me that everyone, no matter how secure they seemed, had need of me” (1984, p. 14). In this passage, Buscaglia emphasizes the point that we all need each other.  In school, in college, and in work beyond school, the collaborative approach to tasks is a key to success.  Working with others who are different from you can sometimes be a challenge, but it can also be a blessing…..which leads to #8.
 

8.  Keep an open mind.  Always appear to have more questions than answers in class discussions, and more answers than questions only on tests.  In his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulghum describes a time when he and a Good Samaritan who had jumper cables attempted to jump his car.  After frying an ignition system in one of the cars, welding the cables to another car’s battery, and knocking his baseball cap off his head, Fulghum’s jump mate remarked, “Ignorance and power and pride are a deadly mixture, you know” (1993, p. 130).  Fulghum remarked, “Sure are.  Like matches in the hands of a three-year-old.  Or automobiles in the hands of a sixteen-year-old…..or jumper cables in the hands of fools.”  You’re going to witness some deadly mixtures, but you don’t have to be a part of them.  Know the differences amongst tolerating, accepting, and embracing others and their ideas so that you are best equipped to value the diversity of the college experience and life beyond it.  You will encounter religious differences, political differences, sexual preference differences, and lifestyle choice differences no matter your choice of college institution.  You will encounter differences in work ethics, differences in nutritional habits, all varieties of manners and grooming practices, and differences in family structures and traditions.  None of these differences – let me repeat that:  NONE OF THESE DIFFERENCES – should get in the way of your ability to work on a task with someone who is different from you.  You already know who you are and what you believe.  You can choose to tolerate others and their ideas, you can choose to accept some of those ideas, and you can choose to embrace some of them.  The important thing is that you see every experience in diversity as a way of understanding others who share the same world with you.  Find the common threads, and determine a way to accomplish the task.  Look around and observe, and it won’t take you long to realize that the people who are the unhappiest and most difficult to get along with are those who are so entrenched in their own ideas and beliefs that they feel threatened by the ideas and beliefs of others. 

7.  Prepare yourself for a career that you enjoy.  Follow your calling.  Elaine St. James (2001) cites a study by Abraham Maslow that revealed that joyful people do the work that they love.  “Those of you who are waking up to this potential know that when you tap into that part of you that is waiting to emerge, when you’re contributing from your heart and from your own special talents, there’s no fear, there’s no greed, there’s no holding back.  There is so much joy that comes from following the wish of your heart that there’s no time for doubt, no time to worry about money, no time to get distracted by things that don’t matter.  You just know deep down that if you do what you’re meant to do, you’ll move ahead with full confidence and do the right thing” (282). When you have found your sweet spot and know that you are working within the realm of your strengths and the desires of your heart, you know that you have found your calling.  Some of the best advice I ever got from a college professor was, “If you are considering any other career besides teaching, go and rule that out before coming back – because this profession requires people who are doing it as a first choice.”  Of course I didn’t drop the class, but I spent that semester pursuing my interest in mortuary science.  I arranged to work with a funeral director and to be a shadow.  I loved most of the job, but I noticed a difference in my emotional ability to handle the death of a 75 year old man and a 7 year old child.  While I realized that there would be challenges in any career I chose, I felt that my strengths and gifts were better geared to the classroom than the mortuary – although I am sure I have some students who would argue that I am draining the lifeblood out of them even in the classroom.  It’s important to determine your calling – and it is equally important to know what is not your calling. 
 

6. Don’t fear movement in a new direction or fine-tuning change along the current path.  The famous line that John Steinbeck chose to use in his novel Of Mice and Men came from Robert Burns’s poem “To a Mouse” and reminds us that “The best laid schemes of mice and men go oft awry.”  Some translations from the original line say, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.”  Steinbeck and Burns both knew that in any great work of literature, change is a theme that transcends time.  It will always exist.  When Spencer Johnson wrote Who Moved My Cheese (2002), the book became an instant bestseller because it gave strategies for dealing with changes that we all experience throughout life.  Happy people know how to adapt to change and accept that it is a reality.  They know how to anticipate it, and they know how to use it to their advantage. As Johnson says, “Move with the Cheese!”

5.  Keep your body healthy.  Eat right, exercise daily, and sleep well.  What is commonly called “The Freshman Fifteen” is a conscious choice that can be avoided.  Every time I have gone to school – whether on a campus or from home – I have gained weight.  I believe that people tend to do this because of the extreme changes in schedule that college life brings.  Most of my weight gain was related to stress, which I found much easier to manage with food instead of exercise.  This can have a domino effect on the whole body in terms of sleep and ability to focus and function – and feel good.  Resist the urge for late-night pizza and junk food as best you can.  These habits, once formed, are hard to undo and come at the expense of other good things.  Try your best to leave a few minutes early and walk the long way to class.  Break out the Fitbit and find ways to challenge friends, family members, and yourself to meet daily goals.  You’ll help others, and others will help you. 

4.  Keep your mind and heart healthy.  Pray and go to church.  Spiritual awareness of your values will keep other areas of your life from unraveling where your good choices are responsible for the outcome.  This also will keep #6 in perspective as well.  A family member and I were talking recently about the ways that college sometimes causes us to raise questions about our beliefs and to feel uncomfortable as a result.  We went two different ways with the conversation.  We discussed the positive points of this (it helps us parse out the subtle differences we have with particular aspects of our beliefs and solidifies the main beliefs even as we grapple for answers to the aspects that seem incongruent, and it helps us realize that even as we might disagree with some parts of a belief system, the tenets are strong enough to get us through the times that we have questions – because we all do from time to time, and it helps us feel assured that while we may have doubts, the only way to resolve them is to stay the course and pray that we find resolution with our struggles).  We also discussed the negative parts of this (sometimes we feel disloyal questioning what we have always known to be true, sometimes we allow our questions to excuse our behavior and then end up feeling guilty when we haven’t held to our beliefs).  These questions that arise and cause us all sorts of inner turmoil are often the times when our greatest points of self-discovery are revealed to us.  It happens to us spiritually, but it also can happen to us politically as well.  I think of it like a scale that has a range on issues, and on some I may fall on one end of the spectrum and on others I’m more in the middle or on the opposite end.  Personal values and spiritual beliefs should provide a rationale for our positions on issues – and it should also be acknowledged that we don’t owe anyone any explanations for these positions, either.  It’s good to get to a point where we are confident enough in ourselves that we don’t feel the need to challenge – or be challenged by – others.  It’s great to get to the point that we can listen to a speech, sermon, or presentation and privately filter what we dispute on our own without having to hash out every one of our disagreements – when we can take what we will, and leave the rest alone. 

3.  Wrap your brain around studying, reading, and writing so that you are always prepared for class.  Know how to study, and make it your priority.  Some good study strategies are outlined in College Survival: A Crash Course for Students by Students (Gottesman and Baer, 1999, p. 47).  One of the most effective time management study strategies, according to the author, is to study for 50 minutes and take breaks of 10 minutes for every hour that you study (71).  Knowing HOW to study is even more important – using mnemonic devices for memorization, typing notes, asking to record lectures so that you can listen again to parts that need clarification, using Post-It notes to mark text discussion points and key findings, and finding good study groups and study buddies that offer more than one way of solving a problem or examining an issue.  Never read without a highlighter and a pen nearby.  Know the format of every test, and match your strategies to that format (i.e. outlining the chapter, being able to summarize it, etc.).   If you have trouble getting started on a writing assignment because you don’t know where to begin, use the recorder on your phone for a minute or two and record yourself discussing everything you know about the writing topic – then, go back and type what you said and begin to organize your paper or essay using your spoken notes.  Studying is labor-intensive and should consume a large percentage of your time.   

2.  Manage your time well.  Elaine St. James (2001, p. 92) suggests using a timer to sustain focus on the tasks at hand.  She cautions that the timer should not be used to create stress associated with the clock, but to use the tool as “a gentle reminder to begin or get back to the task at hand.”  Gottesman and Baer (1999, p. 69) recommend plotting your time with a calendar and, during the first week of classes, sitting down with the calendar and the syllabus for each class to record due dates and test dates on your personal planner.  This will allow you to see when big assignments may overlap so that you can structure your time commitments in advance to balance the time that will be required to complete all the major assignments for each class.  Having daily, weekly, and monthly goals in writing is a way to hold yourself accountable for the ways that you spend your time. 
 

1.  Text ya mama and them.  She – and the rest of your family – really want to hear your voice, but at a minimum you should text your mother every day to let her know you are okay.  Otherwise, you may find that you have been reported as a missing person.  This can be really embarrassing when they send in troops who find you alive and well, eating bacon, eggs, and toast for breakfast in the cafeteria while everyone around you is struggling intently to hold back their laughter.  You may chuckle at this, but remember – your family members can make this happen.  They know people.  Try to remember that this will be a tough transition for your mother, too, and you need to do your part to assure her that you are capable of living a couple of hours away from home – that your teeth are brushed, you are wearing clean underwear, and you have showered and applied deodorant (all in the same day).  Your success in college AND in life depends on this daily habit of reassuring your mother that all is well in your world because you also must remember who is helping support you while you are getting through school.  I’d say this is the most critical aspect of your success, because #2-10 will become completely irrelevant upon your failure to adhere to #1.  Go ahead and set a timer on your phone right now – before you forget.
 
 

                                                            We Love You, Daulton! 

 

Works Cited

Buscaglia, Leo.  (1984).  Loving Each Other.  Thorofare:  Holt, Rinehart & Winston. 

Carlson, Richard. (1998).  Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff at Work:  Simple Ways to Minimize Stress and

                Conflict While Bringing Out the Best in Yourself and Others. New York: Hyperion.

Fulghum, Robert.  (1993).  All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts
                   on Common Things.  New York:  Ballantine Books. 

Gottesman, Greg & Baer, Daniel. (1999). College Survival:  A Crash Course for Students by Students.

                Lawrenceville:  Arco. 

Johnson, Spencer. (1998). Who Moved My Cheese? An A-Mazing Way to Deal With Change in Your
                Work and in Your Life.  New York:  Putnam.

St. James, Elaine. (2001). Simplify Your Work Life:  Ways to Change the Way You Work So You Have
                More Time To Live.  New York:  Hyperion. 

Blest Be the Ties That Bind

 

Blest Be the Ties That Bind

by guest blog writer Rev. Dr. Wilson Felix Haynes, Jr. (my father)

Photo: Charles Marion Haynes and Jeannette Haynes, approx. 1946
Granny Haynes wore a lot of “hats” and an apron.  I asked the only surviving child of her ten children to describe his mother.  My uncle Charles, who lives in Cleveland, Georgia. said: “I can see her tying  on the apron and knew something good was going to happen because she was such a great cook.”  The Haynes clan does not mind being tied to her apron strings because we always knew that with Granny, something good was coming. The metaphor of the apron is so fitting for our grandmother. So, what is an apron for? All 22 grandchildren will continue to consider that question for long years into the future.
When reflecting on  family roots we often discover one component that becomes a pivotal shaping force in our legacies. Surely our DNA plays a role.  However, the crucial  dynamic element is most frequently the profound influence of a person. The Haynes family would unanimously acknowledge the impact of Lena May Kinsey Haynes.
As the storm clouds of World War I hung over the world, Charles Marion and Lena Haynes migrated from Hall County to Bacon County (Alma, Georgia).  My dad, Wilson Felix Haynes, Sr., was the first born of ten children. Charles and Lena soon moved to Waycross in Ware County where, as the years unfolded, nine more children were born. Their first abode in Ware County was in the Kettle Creek area on the very property where Baptist village is now located. My dad and his brother, Virgil, actually climbed into the branches of the massive and historical Oak tree still located on that magnificent landscape.
After a fire destroyed their house in Kettle Creek, the family moved to Gilchrist Park on 501 Washington Avenue. The family expanded with children and grandchildren, and careful teamwork enabled the family  to eke out a livelihood.  In due time, Haynes grocery was opened (1945)  on Washington Avenue and became the central hub of life in Gilchrist Park. The store remains today as the only family- owned grocery store in Ware County.  Hundreds of people  scattered far and wide hold delightful memories of the store, with Lena Haynes, adorned in her apron, smiling behind that counter. The classic glass and oak candy case yielded vintage Topps baseball cards among many other delightful and memorable treats. Royal Crown Cola, Sunbeam (Hopalong Cassidy) and Tip Top (Cisco Kid) breads, and Duncan Yo-Yos held promotionals which drew the neighborhood into fun and bonding events, a tribute to Lena Haynes’s creative vision. Her inspiring presence touched many lives through the force of a store.
    Charles Marion died at the age of 57 of heart complications which could be easily treated today. Only three grandchildren, including me as the second, hold any memory of this venerable and indulgent man standing behind the counter of the store and in the home. He would often treat us to a chewy Mary Jane or other candies from that familiar candy case.    Lena continued to stand with recognized and resolute determination to make her family the highest priority.
The homes on Washington Ave, and later on Prescott Street,  engender solid and forceful memories.  Granny Haynes was insistent on the traditions that she established in these homes.  Almost every grandchild climbed into the Persimmon tree next to the Washington Avenue house with unforgettable impressions of biting into the Persimmon too soon before it ripened.  The annual family Christmas party was eagerly anticipated where every grandchild received a gift from her, most often a silver dollar! We drew names for the second gift.  The two home sites are loaded with memories cherished by every single grandchild: listening to Perry Como sing “I Believe”, the stereo with the Elvis Album of sacred music, and seeing her adorned with an apron in the kitchen, a fabulous cook.   The scenes of hearth and home at Granny’s house evoke warm feelings:  just-picked vegetables from the garden, fresh eggs from the henhouse, friendly neighbors coming and going from her home, family folks sitting on the porch watching fireflies and building family bonds – and just being together.  She had a way of making every grandchild think they were the favorite.
Lena was a cheerleader and found ways to encourage each family member. Her discipline was always instructive and graceful. She made life fun! She loved the trips to downtown Waycross on Saturday mornings with various family members.  Additionally, she made frequent trips to visit her children  in Valdosta and Tampa, Florida.  Lena especially loved Gasparilla time in Tampa and well understood the meaning of the Abundant life, and the little child came out in her.   Granny Haynes had a unique way of imparting the Word of the Lord that brought us joy and never fear. Instinctively, she knew that Lesson number one in life was the recognition that God loves us. She made us laugh and dried our tears.
The foundational stone in her family solidarity  was Calvary Baptist Church, where to this day, there has always been a Haynes family member. The deep and extensive family roots were deepened  in that hallowed house of the Lord. The most defining scene of Lena’s life is a photo of her sitting on the front row of Calvary Baptist Church with an open Bible in her lap surrounded by a sizable segment of her family.  Everyone who views that photo realized the values and visions implanted in their lives because of this grand and gentle matriarch. The admirable spiritual dimensions of this family are traceable to a wonderful mentor whose life was nurtured by the Springs from the Everlasting Hills. Edgar A. Guest said, “I would rather see a sermon any day than hear one.”  She made both real for us.
Lena planted the seed of “get an education” deep within these family roots.  Nine of the ten children attended Gilchrist Park Elementary School. (Geneva, a twin girl, died at age seven). Ava Harper, a second grade teacher, taught all nine of them and several grandchildren, including me. She taught a Bible story every single day and taught her students quote several of the Psalms. We believe she was In cahoots with Lena regarding an additional reinforcement of  discipline and spirituality. The difference was that Granny was more gentle!  I can still hear Ava Harper pointing her finger and saying, “Felix Haynes, such naudness, such naudness!” (a stronger form of naughtiness). In retrospect, it took a village to raise our family and we were fortunate to have a good school, church family, and special neighborhood.  
The story of Lena Haynes has become a model for generations of what family is all about. She is the persuasive embodiment of everything that makes  family the design for what God intended  it to become.  She knew that family was the greatest  priority.  She created the traditions that matter most: Gathering in the home, churning ice-cream, eating water-melon and fried chicken, listening to the stereo, taking inventory in the store, and myriads of activities –all of these things– hold sacred memories.  Her verbal prayers were simple and hit a lot of targets, even beyond family. In fact, literally hundreds would tell us she was Granny Haynes! The store became the home of the community and no human being was ever unwelcome. Lena’s spirit of adventure, love of  life and people, deep understanding, unconditional love and example made life special for an untold number of people.  The scenes and stories are etched unforgettably  in our minds. We have learned from her that a positive attitude and determination are required courses in life to live with meaning and purpose. She was Granny Haynes. So, what about that apron, what is it for?  It is a potholder for moving hot pots and pans for this large clan; for drying tears and dirty ears; for carrying eggs from the henhouse, peas from the garden, wiping the perspiring brow, a quick dust of the furniture before company came…and many of other uses. The purposes of this amazing emblem of days gone by will continue to help us recall scenes in the life of an amazing woman, Lena May “Granny” Haynes.
Robert Browning said of such a woman: “Through such souls alone God shows sufficient  His  Light for those in darkness to rise by.”  And we rise.

Photos: Haynes Family Reunion, 2017



                                    Never Not a Teacher

 

 
Somewhere along the way, teachers realize that the calling to be a teacher is a lot like growing a new skin that can never be shed.  We are identified in public places by total strangers who correctly guess that we are teachers.  It becomes second nature to us to ask our companions if anyone needs to use the restroom before going into a movie theater, a baseball game, or any similar event.  We stop short of bending over to tie other people’s shoelaces or cutting their steak for them, but the urge is real.  We even carry expectations of those around us, and we inadvertently give someone the “teacher glare” from time to time, especially if we observe bottle flipping or an empty water bottle being thrown at a trash can.

Ralph Fletcher, in A Writer’s Notebook (1996), says that “It’s important to pay attention to what haunts you, what images or memories keep running around in your mind even when you try not to think about them” (17). Is there any wonder, then, in the middle of the summer after a 5K race when an empty water bottle came sailing past me and bounced off a trash can rim on to the ground, that the teacher in me came out like Bill Bixby transforming into the Incredible Hulk?  Out of the corner of my eye, I had seen it before it happened – as most teachers do.   A tall male figure on tippy-toes, an elbow overhead and then a straight arm extended above, a palm completely extended and frozen in an anticipatory gesture toward a trash can the instant after a bottle was released from its grip, the empty bottle kissing the rim of the trash can before plummeting to the ground.  This is one slo-mo video that can be played at the drop of a hat in every teacher’s mind.  It never leaves us. 
 

The shooter must have caught my scolding glance.  Immediately he left his pocket of friends to retrieve the wayward bottle and deposit it into the trash, keeping one cautious eye on me all the while.  Before he could arrive, though, I whisked it up.  To allow the shame of such a failure is never the way of a teacher.  No, indeed.  I handed him the bottle and told him to try again.  By now, there was an audience, all captivated and cheering for his success on the second attempt.  He took a step closer to the trash can.  The stance: straight and tall, showy, the tilt of the head, a lick of the lips in extreme focus, and the raising onto the toes.  The release:  the elbow directly overhead, with the bottle hanging limply behind the head before raising into the straight arm overhead, the simultaneous thrust of the palm, hand in a puppet formation suspended in mid-air as if it would magically direct the bottle to its target from behind, and every surrounding eye on the bottle as it careened right past the trash can without even a glance in the right direction.  Sighs from the crowd.  Embarrassment on the part of the shooter, along with admitted failure and no determination to be successful with this crowd as an audience.  I saw all of that, but the teacher in me knew that to avoid dropout syndrome, we had to set the stage for success and refuse to give up. 

I picked up the bottle a second time and returned it to him.  On this makeshift basketball court of a parking lot, the teacher in me became the referee between defeat and success.  I couldn’t stop and speculate about what the onlookers probably thought about this woman who had apparently lost her mind in this interaction with a stranger when I pointed to a parking line and shooed him behind it.  He raised his hands in a seemingly mad questioning gesture, sucked his teeth a little, and asked, “Now you gonna make me….” and didn’t finish the question, because I had already moved the trash can into alignment, had my hands on my hips, and had the crowd focused on him once again. “Come on.  You can do it.”  The familiar routine emerged, and the water bottle whooshed seamlessly into the target on his third attempt.  Instant applause from the crowd, and a shattered ego restored.  The young man gave me a sheepish but questioning and sympathetic grin as he returned to his circle of friends, I moved the trash can back, and the day resumed its course on a brighter path.
Had this been my student, I would have reaped future benefits in having taken the first step of many more in establishing a relationship that allowed me to celebrate him, to push him, to encourage him, and to remind him daily that I believed in him and would not allow him to fall short of his potential.  By the end of the first week of school, I would have been looking him dead in the eyes when he tried to misbehave in my class and telling him that while I love my shooting star, he’d better not step out of line.  And we’d have smiled an understanding smile at each other and gotten about the business of learning…..for at least fifteen minutes until I had to remind him again.
 
 

Ron Clark (2004) says, “Nothing raises the level of confidence in a child more than success (165).”  Teachers recognize that the classroom doesn’t have boundaries.  I would modify that sentence to say, “Nothing raises the level of confidence in a person more than success.”  When teachers see students -or people- who try their best, we rally for them.   Names don’t matter.  Skin color doesn’t matter.  Age doesn’t matter, and religion or political persuasion does not matter.  What matters is that we set the stage for success and work toward it.  Once we help someone achieve it, we have built a relationship and gained their trust.  We establish an expectation and are willing to let them get annoyed with us a little bit for wanting to stretch them enough to watch them succeed, and therein lies the major conflict of what we do.  This is both the blessing and the curse of the profession that we call teaching – we completely invest ourselves in the people around us, and we try to talk better sense into complacency and wage war with apathy.  Our families sympathize deeply enough with our inner troubles to buy us socks that say, “If you can read this” on the left foot, and “bring me a glass of wine” on the right foot, along with similarly-themed dishtowels and kitchen signs that indicate our need to temper the struggles with relaxation techniques that exceed the capabilities of our own mindsets.  They do this because they know.  Those closest to us know that no matter where we go, no matter what we encounter, we can never overcome the teacher within – nor would we want to. We’ll never not be teachers.
 
References
Clark, Ron. (2004). The Excellent 11: Qualities Teachers and Parents Use to Motivate, Inspire, and Educate Children. New York: Hyperion Books.
Fletcher, Ralph. (1996). A Writer’s Notebook: Unlocking the Writer Within You. New York: HarperTrophy Books.

The Bottom Line

                     The Bottom Line

Very few positive thoughts come to mind as we consider the many aging issues that we face as we grow older.  Middle age is when we begin to realize that everything we’ve ever heard about physical health is true:  “It all heads south,”  and “Be ready to start falling apart; if it isn’t one thing, it’s another.”  For three years now, a week hasn’t passed that I haven’t given some dreaded thought to the looming colonoscopy that takes place at 50.  I deliberately timed my regular checkup at the end of year 49 so that I could buy myself an extra year before my general doctor made the official referral to the gastroenterologist.  And I knew it was coming.  “Most men and women should start having a Hemoccult test after age forty to screen for hidden blood in the stool.  After fifty, you should have a colonoscopy every three to five years to rule out colon cancer and to detect polyps that could potentially turn into colon cancer.  We know it’s an invasive process – but newer virtual colonoscopies are improving dramatically – and if Katie Couric can do it in front of a national audience, you can do it on your own” (Roizen & Oz 340).  I remember the day Katie Couric, wide awake, had a colonoscopy on live television as part of the Today show.  I remember the doctor saying, “And there’s your pretty little colon.”  That’s exciting for a pretty little Katie Couric, but not as well for the rest of us. 

I knew when I took my husband for his first colonoscopy several years ago that it would take a great deal of mental preparation for me to willingly schedule a procedure that would allow anyone to go deep sea diving and cave exploring in my rear end and then beach me on a public shore where I would be expected to expel the air tank used on the mission – within earshot and possibly eyesight of a room full of others doing the very same thing, separated only by a thin fabric curtain.  I considered how I might cheat a little bit to trick the nurses into letting me go home early. I pictured myself sitting behind my curtain, inflating and then holding taut the opening of a large punch balloon and letting it rip, loud and long, and sighing deeply before sheepishly asking, “There. Can I go home now?”

Any female who has ever 1) had a clownish dad or an obnoxious brother, 2) been married and/or 3) raised a son should be immune to the embarrassment of bathroom humor.  It happens.  Not only does it happen, but often the men in our lives are overtly proud of their accomplishments. They brag about them.  They will summon us from the far end of the house or the yard just to see or hear things that they believe should earn them a title in the Guinness Book of World Records.  Then they laugh and smile with pride, expecting us to do the same.  These are the  very same men who wonder why cats bring dead birds and mice and deposit them on the welcome mat. 

That’s probably the reason that I have two toilet rooms in the master bathroom that I share with my husband.  We share a common shower, but we have separate sinks and toilets; and those toilets each have a room with a locking door.  What happens in these rooms stays in these rooms.  No questions asked, no trophies earned. 

When the directive was given by my doctor to schedule a colonoscopy, I reluctantly followed her order.  I scheduled the procedure and ordered the prep, which consisted of 5 laxative tablets, a bottle of EZ-2-Go, lemon flavored gelatin mix, 3 packets of chicken broth powder, an assortment of individually packaged wet wipes, and 2 packets of Gatorade. I completed all the medical history paperwork dating back 51 years and attached my insurance card.  Then I began to worry and bite my nails as I counted down the days. 

I also began reading, because it’s like one of those ladder fire escapes that you see outside big city apartments for when the building is on fire and you’ve got to get out FAST.  When I read, I find that one minute I can be a breath away from a panic attack, and the next I find myself transported to a place of great peace.  A simple book became the best mental medicine for me.  Dr. Patricia Raymond, a gastroenterologist who is the founder of Rx For Sanity (RxForSanity.com) and author of Colonoscopy: It’ll Crack You Up!  became a hand-holding friend of mine as I read her chapter of Fifty Things to Do When You Turn Fifty (Sellers 135).  She assured me, “Okay, it’s nasty.  But all you need to get through this life-saving rite of passage is a sense of humor.”  I wondered about how to achieve that, and I read further.  She became a close, comforting friend who was visiting me in my living room to convince me that I was taking myself far too seriously and to reassure me that I was going to be fine.  Her puns were on point.  Maybe she was right.  Perhaps all I needed was a sense of humor.  Here’s the part that explained how to have a sense of humor about a colonoscopy: “The key is having fun while you’re doing it.  For instance, I encourage my patients to decorate their bottoms to celebrate various holidays that fall on or near their scheduled colonoscopy.  Over the years, I’ve been greeted with hearts, pumpkins and black cats, even an American Flag or two.”  Instantly, I knew that my colonoscopy could in fact be fun.  I took snapshots of the pages of her chapter and excitedly sent them to my brother, Ken, who knew how badly I was struggling with anxiety over the whole thing.  I sent the pages along with a text that said, “That’s it!  I’m decorating my ass for my procedure! Read this article.”  I couldn’t wait to share the idea with my husband, and was on my way to show him what I had found when I received a text back:  “This may be the best text I have ever received.  Ever.”  Only it wasn’t from Ken.  I had sent a group text by mistake.  Technology mishaps – yet another pitfall of middle age. 

Every shade of red later, after the initial embarrassment of the text wore off, I began designing my graphic surprise.  I decided to use a running theme (which, I realized later, was even more appropriate than I had imagined).  I thought of the oval car stickers with the mileage numbers for 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, and marathons.  A 6.2 sticker was designed for my right rear-view mirror, and a 3.1 sticker for my left.  Spanning both sides, to indicate the start and finish line of the “race,” I designed a banner that said, “May the winds be gentle, the course free of obstacles, and the finish fast. Ready, Set, Go!”  The planning of the design took my stress away and allowed me to focus on the creativity of adding an element of surprise for the medical team performing my colonoscopy. 

As I had hoped, the doctor was shaking his finger at me and grinning as he approached me to deliver my report when it was all finished:  a healthy colon, and a healthy sense of humor.  I hadn’t predicted his retaliatory prankish nature, though.  With a straight face, he said, “We’re in the process of updating our Facebook page.  You won’t mind if we use your photo of your design, in place, on our page….(and then his devilish smile appeared) will you?”  On the afternoon of my recovery phase, I’m already planning my next colonoscopy bottom design.  Ten years is far too long to have to wait for the next screening!

                                                                      Works Cited

Rozien, M. and Oz, M. (2005). You – The Owner’s Manual: An Insider’s Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger.  New York: HarperCollins. 

Sellers, R. (2005).  Fifty Things to Do When You Turn Fifty.  Portland:  Sellers Publishing.

                                  Prayer for a Miracle

 
 
One of my favorite pastimes as a grandmother of three beautiful children is reading books to them.  The stories teach us important life lessons through the characters, and the time we spend hugging and laughing is comforting.  Books are a sure way to get an always-on-the-move child to sit still for a minute and let a love-hungry Nana get some sugar.  Reading also bridges the gap for grandparents as we think of the stories our own parents read to us, along with the stories we have lived and the memories we have made.  We develop a firm appreciation for the importance of all stories, but particularly our own stories, and we realize the tremendous responsibility we have in sharing these stories – not only with our grandchildren, but with all who will listen.  There are messages to be heard, and blessings to be realized. 

 

Some of my favorite words are those of Dr. Seuss, from The Lorax: “It all started way back…..such a long, long time back….”(Seuss np).  And this is how I begin my story for all who will listen. 

It all started way back…..such a long, long time back.  The year was somewhere between 1974 and 1976, which put me between 8 and 10 years old.  I lived with my parents and younger brother on St. Simons Island, Georgia.  My parents were avid runners.  Dad had run track at Ware County High School in Waycross, and Mom was a natural runner, too.  They ran road races, and we ran together as a family activity many days.  My first road race was the Super Dolphin fun mile, where I won my age group.  I vividly recall my mother saying, “I couldn’t believe it.  I heard clapping, and I looked up to see who was coming around the corner, and it was you.”  Funny how the impact of words can seem so insignificant at the time, but years later they resonate in ways that are most unexpected.

Fast forward and pause here and there throughout life and visit points of rich history that running has played in my life.  I ran in elementary, middle and high school for periods of time.  My first husband began running and often placed in his age group in his heyday.  I continued running intermittently as our children were growing up, but I left the organized running events to others while our children were very young. In fact, my parents and my ex-husband often ran races together.  One of my favorite photographs is of my mother accepting an age division award and everyone thinking that the baby was hers.  She needed the t-shirt that said, “Assuming I was a normal grandmother was your first mistake.”  My mother was young and more fit than I was at that time in my life!  Two of our three children ran high school cross country and track, and our son excelled in the sport so much that he went on to run for the University of South Carolina.  He fell in love with a member of the team, and they married.  At a recent alumni race for all the members of this team, their two year old son was positioned with some of their friends at the finish line to run across with his parents – my son and his very pregnant wife (which means that technically, my granddaughter finished her first 5K before she was born)! 

 

When Mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, the doctors told her to continue an active exercise regimen to improve her memory and her health as the disease progressed.  Though she wasn’t able to run much longer, she walked to a quick finish in the Sunshine Festival 5K on St. Simons year after year, and on the last year she finished it, Dad looked at me and said, “I’d hate to walk against her.”  Her steadfast commitment to health and to remaining active throughout her life inspired me.  Then I saw a friend from Pike County cross the finish line, too.  Right then, I made the Sunshine Festival 5K a goal.  Surprisingly enough, I told myself that I would run it, and I didn’t know where that promise came from or if I could even keep it.  What kind of trouble had I promised myself?  At that time, I was finishing a doctoral degree with zero time for exercise or anything else except a dissertation, and was significantly overweight.  Generally, mothers try to lose baby weight between births of children, and while I had managed to do that over two decades ago, what I hadn’t lost was weight gained between a Specialist’s degree and a Doctoral degree – and I didn’t have an active bone left anywhere in my body. 

 

When Mom died in December 2015, I was heartbroken that she hadn’t lived to see me finish my degree.  Education had always been of utmost importance to both of my parents, and while we joke about its incredible importance today, it became a conditional factor of marriage approval between my second husband and my dad before we married in 2008.  “Please encourage her to finish her education,” Dad requested.  He did.  And I did.  But the desire to walk at graduation simply faded when I considered that Mom would not be there to see it all happen.  And I was 70 pounds overweight at the age of 50 when I became Dr. Kim Haynes Johnson. 

What took place after the degree was completed was a change in my eating and exercise habits.  My brother and I got Fitbits and began a (sort of friendly) sibling competition to see which of us could meet a daily goal and get the most steps.  Soon thereafter, we walked and finished our first 5K course together as adults – the Ugly Sweater Run in Atlanta, Georgia.  Not long after that, we challenged each other to run/walk and then progressed to fully running the organized running events we entered.  We set goals, and we achieved them.  Over the course of a year and a half, I lost those thunderous 75 pounds and began to look a little bit more like my wedding picture again, and I broke 30 minutes on a 5K course. 

In between the time that we registered for the Sunshine Festival race and the time that we would run it, Ken and I came up with an idea to start running longer distances and train for a half marathon.  We hadn’t picked one out, but we were sure that we would run one soon and started increasing our distances in preparation.  I’m pretty sure that’s when my injury occurred.  On a long run day, I thought it would be a good sign to run a quarter marathon and be halfway there.  It backfired.  At first, I thought it was a strained muscle, but the more I tried to run and couldn’t, I became convinced it was Sciatica.  Days away from the Sunshine Festival, I began to feel more and more heartbreak each day as I realized that I may not be able to run the one race that set it all in motion.  The one race that my mother had loyally finished right up until she could no longer run or walk.  The one race that I wanted to run 4 days before turning 51.  The one race that I wanted to feel my mother running alongside me, cheering me on, telling me she was so proud of me. 

Five days before the race was when I first discovered the injury.  Anyone driving past would have sworn that if I hadn’t been human, I’d have been a limping dog with a raw gunshot wound to the left buttock.  I denied it, but the pain won at 1/3 of a mile, and I was in tears.  With four days to go, the pain tears became tears of anger as I made it ¼ of a mile and succumbed.  Three days prior to race day, and Sunday at that, I sat in church with my eyes brimming with tears.  I couldn’t talk to anyone.  I couldn’t fix the problem.  I couldn’t face not running, because it meant so much to me to run this particular race.  I considered a chiropractor, but I prayed instead.  “Lord,” I said, “I can’t fix this, but you can.  This race is important to me.  I feel close to my mother there, and I wanted to feel like she was running right there with me.  The heartbreak that you know I feel in not being able to run is worse than the physical pain.  Please, Lord, you alone can work a miracle, and I need one if I am going to be able to run this race.  It means so much to me. Please heal me, and allow me to run the race on Tuesday.” 

 

A feeling of peace prevailed, and I made it through lunch with no tears.  I thumbed through Billy Graham’s Angels: God’s Secret Agents and prayed that I would be able to run and that my mother would be right there beside me the whole way – and that I would somehow be assured of her presence.  “Our certainty that angels right now witness how we are walking through life should mightily influence the decisions we make.  God is watching, and His angels are interested spectators too.  The Amplified Bible expresses 1 Corinthians 4:9 this way:  ‘God has made an exhibit of us….a show in the world’s amphitheater – with both men and angels (as spectators).’ We know they are watching, but in the heat of the battle, I have thought how wonderful it would be if we could hear them cheering.” (Graham, 164).  I continued praying, begging God to take my pain away so that I would be able to run the race.  I desperately want this experience of feeling close to my mother. 

I asked several key running friends to pray, too, and my pastor.  Throughout Sunday, I toyed with the idea of seeking a chiropractor on Monday morning, but decided that sheer faith in prayer was what I really needed.  I texted my brother to tell him how disappointed I was at the prospect of not being able to run.  He texted back to say that he sure hoped I saw the irony of this pain in my butt, and to remind me that “Mom’s goal was never an outstanding performance – for her, it was always about finishing the race.”  As the day ended, I kept praying. 

This morning, one day prior to race day, I knew that a lengthy run would be a bad idea, even in the absence of pain.  Despite the weekly mileage that I needed in preparation for the race, the rest before the race day is also an important component for any chance of a successful run tomorrow.  I had to know, though.  I had to know if the pain was still a threat to my race event or whether the Lord had heard the prayers and taken my pain.  I set my mileage tracker and stretched.  I picked some music and adjusted my earbuds.  It was time to find out, and I would know immediately.  I looked down the street to the west, took a deep breath, and started a slow jog and then increased to a medium pace.  I continued increasing my pace and realized that the miracle for which I had prayed had been granted, and I burst into tears of joy and thankfulness as I ran one mile, then stopped, confident that tomorrow will bring more of God’s good grace – and my mother’s presence by my side as I run.   Tomorrow, I will be fulfilling a promise that I made to myself a few years ago to commit myself to a healthier lifestyle and run the race that my mother loved running.  Tomorrow, I hope to know for sure not only that my mother is watching over me, but that she is also cheering.

An Update with Results:

I stepped to the start line with a feeling of certainty that Mom was beside us in spirit.  As the gun went off and we started the race, I felt no pain whatsoever.  Each half mile was filled with memories of those places:  running past where Mom used to watch me play softball in Mallery Park, running where we rode bikes down the streets of our old neighborhood, passing the home where we lived on Martin Street, running past the house where I fell off the roof and broke my arm, running the street I walked each morning and afternoon to and from the school bus, and running past the Dairy Queen (which used to be the Tastee Freeze) where we ate more than our fair share of ice cream.  I heard Mom’s voice in my head, encouraging me the entire way.  She was saying all the things I imagined that she would say – “Come on, Kimmie.  You can do it.”  “Keep the pace.  Don’t give too much too soon.”  “Great Job – you’re almost there.”  At mile 3, my brother passed me, and I had nothing left to give to try to stay with him the final tenth of a mile (or beat him, which I would have preferred to do).  He broke 28 minutes.  I finished just over the 28 minute mark – which meant that in my older running phase of life, this was a PR for the middle age years for both of us.  There were blessings for both Ken and me in this race.  


The one thing I hadn’t received yet was any communication from Mom that was unexpected or distinctly prophetic. Then, it came in a most unexpected way.  When Ken took his dog, Feivel, for a walk, Mom’s dog didn’t like being left out.  I couldn’t find a leash anywhere, so I got one of Dad’s neckties, and off Mullie and I went, ambling slowly over to the ball park.  One of the current pastimes in many cities across the nation is hiding painted rocks with messages for people to find.  As we approached a large oak tree, I caught a glimpse of a bright blue color peeking out of a crevice in the bottom.  When I retrieved the rock, I knew it was a message from her.  An anchor.  One symbol with a myriad of messages for me that can be applied in almost all areas of my life.  My prayers were answered on July 4th in the form of miracles.  They do still happen!


Works Cited

Graham, B. (1975). Angels: God’s Secret Agents.  Dallas:  Word Publishing.

Seuss, T. (1971). The Lorax.  New York: Random House.
 

 
 
 

                  Honoring a Hero of the Greatest Generation

 
Yesterday, the rural Georgia city of Concord buried its last remaining soldier missing in action from World War 2.  First Lieutenant Robert Eugene Oxford died on January 25, 1944 at the age of 24 when his plane crashed in the Himalayan Mountains while he and a crew of seven other men were on a cargo flight carrying medical supplies to China.  A recovery team identified his remains in 2016.  After more than 73 years, Lt. Oxford has finally been laid to rest near those who loved him best but who died never knowing what had happened to him. 

Memories of his life were shared by distant family members and friends who had kept his letters and stories alive throughout the years.  When he went off to war, he left a fiancée, Susan Brown, whose best friend stood beside the road waving a flag as his remains were brought from the Atlanta Airport to the funeral home.  Though Susan married later in life, she had always said that when he came home, she’d be there to welcome him back; but a year ago, she joined him in Heaven and finally knew what her best friend, standing by the road in her absence, and the rest of us would not know for a few more months. 

 
Ceremonies honoring Lt. Oxford were impressive beyond those of a proper returning hero’s welcome.  A commercialairline honored Lt. Oxford in a military ceremony as passengers debarked the plane on which his remains had been flown home.  People tied yellow ribbons and waved flags as they lined the streets from the Atlanta Airport to the funeral home in Zebulon.  The funeral ceremony was held in the school auditorium because of the need for plenty of seats, and the procession from the funeral home to the cemetery spanned 8 miles and increased in the number of citizens with yellow ribbons, flags, and Welcome Home signs as Lt. Oxford got closer to Concord.  The cemetery service featured full military honors, with a 21-gun salute, a flyover with the missing man formation, and Taps.  Something else that was impressive about these services is that the Chinese population in attendance equally matched that of the Americans in attendance.  Because Lt. Oxford had been on several missions that delivered supplies to the Chinese, he became a hero in their country as well as ours, and the Chinese delegates sent gifts to the family to express their appreciation for his service. 

At the funeral, Reverend Jeff Overton referenced Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation, in which Brokaw tells stories that prove that Oxford’s was a generation who understood what it meant to serve.  As I thumbed through the pages of the book when I returned home, I found an interesting observation that Brokaw made as he and his wife Meredith traveled together talking to veterans.  He told her, “The men tell the stories best themselves….Whenever one of these guys comes over to say hello, just ask, ‘Where were you that day?’ You’ll hear some unbelievable stories.”  This reminded me of the importance of stories in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.  O’Brien, throughout his book, sketches an overarching theme of the significance of stories not only in the healing process, but also in survival itself.  He says of war stories that “’In any war story, but especially a true one, it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen……In many cases, a true war story cannot be believed.  If you believe it, be skeptical.  It’s a question of credibility.  Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn’t, because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness.  In other cases, you can’t even tell a true war story.  Sometimes it’s just beyond telling.”  Lieutenant Oxford, I am certain, had many of those types of stories – and it saddens me that he never had the opportunity to tell them to a wife, his children, or his grandchildren.  He sacrificed his own opportunities so that others could have the freedoms we enjoy today. 

O’ Brien also says that a true war story is never about the war, but instead is about sunlight and the special way that “dawn spreads out on a river when you know you must cross the river and march into the mountains and do things you are afraid to do.  It’s about love and memory.  It’s about sorrow.  It’s about sisters who never write back and people who never listen.”  Lieutenant Oxford lost his life on a mountain serving others.  He made the ultimate sacrifice. 

“Stories can save us,” O’Brien concludes.  “In a story, which is a kind of dreaming, the dead sometimes smile and sit up and return to the world.”  That’s exactly what happened in Pike County yesterday.  Through the stories shared about Lieutenant Oxford, passed down from generation to generation, he smiled, sat up, and returned to the world to be honored the way he deserved.  Reverend Overton said it best:  “His life of service continues today, in the form of inspiration to serve to make this a better place.” Though the timing of his return may seem unfortunate and long overdue for his family, the timing of Lieutenant Oxford’s return was perfect for such a time as ours – when we all need a powerful reminder of what it means to truly serve and sacrifice the way that the heroes of the greatest generation did! 

References

Brokaw, T. (1998). The Greatest Generation.  New York: Random House.

O’Brien, T. (1990). The Things They Carried. New York:  Penguin Books.

The Dawn of a New and Glorious Day

Photo credit:  “New Horizons” by Dr. Wilson Felix Haynes, Jr.
 
 

                                                  The Dawn of a New and Glorious Day

A little over a year ago, in the aftermath of my mother’s death, my dad channeled his grief into photographic creativity by taking early morning walks on the beaches of St. Simons Island, Georgia.  During these walks, he captured glorious sunrises and often challenged my brother and me to caption them.  The images always arrived between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m., just as our high school students were arriving in our classes.  We’d eagerly text back hurried first-impression expressions such as, “New Horizons,” “Ominous Threat,” or “Meandering Waterways,” as each picture suggested.  As the school year wore on and Dad’s grieving entered new stages, the photos became less frequent, but certainly no less impressive.  His days started with an eye seeking beauty in a dark place of his life, preserving and sharing the images, and ours began with powerful reminders of our roots on the Georgia coast – even as both my brother and I were living in central Georgia. 

I fell in love with A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold in 2008 when I attended a teacher workshop that was held at the Jones Ecological Center in south Georgia.  Nightly reading assignments were anything but dreaded; in fact, they became the highlight of my day as I pored over the magnificent analogies and imagery that Leopold described.  Here was an author who could take complex concepts and simplify them so that even the most novice naturalist could grasp a solid understanding of his ideas.  His observations about nature and his warnings reminded me of Chief Seattle’s message to future generations about the importance of nature conservation and the priority it deserves.  Not surprisingly, Dad’s morning pictures often inspired me to return to the wisdom-rich text for insights and caption-worthy phrases.  Caption searches led to re-readings of the dog-eared text, and two excerpts stood out as I reflected upon several weeks’ worth of photos: 

“Ability to see the cultural value of wilderness boils down, in the last analysis, to a question of intellectual humility.  The shallow-minded modern who has lost his rootage in the land assumes that he has already discovered what is important; it is such who prate of empires, political or economic, that will last a thousand years.  It is only the scholar who appreciates that all history consists of successive excursions from a single starting-point, to which man returns again and again to organize yet another search for a durable scale of values.  It is only the scholar who understands why the raw wilderness gives definition and meaning to the human enterprise” (Leopold, 279).

“To build a road is so much simpler than to think of what the country really needs…..but all conservation of wilderness is self-defeating, for to cherish we must see and fondle, and when enough have seen and fondled, there is no wilderness left to cherish” (Leopold, 107-8).

I’ve heard it said that grief begins before a loss.  My brother and I lost our mother, and Dad lost his wife long before she drew her last breath.  Parkinson’s Disease battled her spirit and won the long-fought war of Mom’s earthly life.  Her death, our grief, was unavoidable.  Not all loss and grief is inevitable, though.  My hope is that the raw wilderness that Leopold describes will not be lost or grieved in my lifetime – or in that of my grandchildren’s, and that we seek and seize opportunities to cure the diseases of political and economic empires that threaten to diminish the rich meaning of the human enterprise.  The captioned “Ominous Threat” we sense can still become a “Heeded Warning,” a “Miraculous Hope,” and the “Dawn of a New and Glorious Day.” 

References

Leopold, A. (1966). A Sand County Almanac. New York:  Random House. 

Oh, the Joy!

My greatest joys of the holidays were my children’s love of the arts. Here, Aidan is loving his new finger puppets! Another highlight was following my daughter’s blog through Germany as the Young Harris College Chamber Choir performed in Munich, Germany and hearing her sing O Holy Night at the St. Simons Island First Baptist Church on Christmas Eve. image