Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Wherever You Are

This is a song I wrote about going to Rwanda - and missing the one I love.  But it could also be a breakup song.  A jealous song.  It is a song about longing.

It began as an instrumental tune and a separate poem.  They came together for this.

Wherever You Are

Peaceful smile of a moon
graces the eastern sky
Deep purple blue
surrounding it's light
It's the same pale moon moon
wherever you are
And I wonder what you're doing

Warm southwest wind
tousles my hair
First star of the evening
burning bright
It's the same evening star
wherever you are
And I wonder what you're doing

Evening dove's mournful tune
marks my soul
It feels sad
but it's right
It's that same twilight song
wherever you are
And I wonder what you're doing

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

OK, Rush Limbaugh Is a Bad Man

I want to stop writing about gun laws/lawlessness.  I do.   But it's hard.  

I'll keep it brief...

(From limbaugh.com)

I've been watching the children-as-human-shields show that is now going on at the White House.  Boy, these guys are somber.  Biden was very somber.  You would have thought that eulogies... (imitating Biden) "I've worked with this guy 27 hours a day, President Barack Obama." (clapping)  Yeah!  Kids cheer and the president starts out reading some letters from the kids.  Gotta do what the kids want.  Gotta answer all their letters to Santa Claus.  Gotta do everything they want.  It's stunning. You look at the what's happening in the country. 
By the way... I've got the 23 executive orders here.  There are 23 executive actions.  I have them here.  I got the PDFs earlier this morning. They were embargoed until the president started speaking, and a summary of these 23 as well.  It's called the Gun Violence Reduction Executive Actions. You go through this, and there isn't one of them that would have stopped what happened at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Not one of these would have stopped this. 
No, it will take Congress to eliminate the sales of assault rifles, clips with obscene numbers of bullets, ensure full background checks, etc.  President Obama alone does not have the power to do it.  
What is Limbaugh doing?

In 2008, 2,947 children and teens died from guns in the United States and 2,793 died in 2009 for a total of 5,740—one child or teen every three hours, eight every day, 55 every week for two years.

 The 5,740 children and teens killed by guns in 2008 and 2009:
Would fill more than 229 public school classrooms of 25 students each;
Was greater than the number of U.S. military personnel killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan (5,013).

The number of preschoolers killed by guns in 2008 (88) and in 2009 (85) was nearly double the number of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty in 2008 (41) and 2009 (48).

Black children and teens accounted for 45 percent of all child and teen gun deaths in 2008 and 2009 but were only 15 percent of the total child population.

Black males 15-19 were eight times as likely as White males of the same age and two-and-a-half times as likely as their Hispanic peers to be killed in a gun homicide in 2009.

The leading cause of death among Black teens ages 15 to 19 in 2008 and 2009 was gun homicide. For White teens 15 to 19 it was motor vehicle accidents followed by gun homicide in 2008 and gun suicide in 2009.

The most recent analysis of data from 23 industrialized nations shows that 87 percent of the children under age 15 killed by guns in these nations lived in the United States. The gun homicide rate in the United States for teens and young adults ages 15 to 24 was 42.7 times higher than the combined rate for the other nations. (From Protect Children, Not Guns - The Children's Defense Fund 2012)

I wonder how Rush Limbaugh would feel if he had a child who was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Or for that matter, if one of his loved ones were victims of gun violence in places that we don't often hear of on the news.  I wonder if Rush would feel like mocking President Obama's efforts to keep our children safe if he held a dying child - like the ones at Sandy Hook.  

Saturday, January 12, 2013

At The Restaurant

I posted this one a few years back.  But last night, after school, we caught up with an old friend.  We sat in the same booth, looked out the same window.  It was about the same time of year and the weather was about the same.  It was a Friday night.  It just reminded me of that time.  There are a few new readers so I thought I'd give this one another go.  Thanks for reading.

I’m sitting in this restaurant taking a break before our Friday movie night at school. Tonight it’s “The Incredible Mr. Limpett”. Don Knotts turns into a fish, works for the Allies during WWII and wins the war. The tarps are down on the floor at school, the DVD projector and speakers are set up.  I've got a few minutes to catch my breath before heading back.  Long week.

I’m by myself in a crowded place. It’s a perfect time for people watching. There are so many interesting faces, clothes, hair, accents.

It’s a Friday night so the place is hopping. This is a really large strip mall and there are many people walking around. Lots of folks just hanging out. I’m seated right by the window.  I've got my notebook open.

It’s warm for the first time in months so people are showing more skin than in a while. Earlier this week it was so cold that we had to take in plants from outside so they wouldn’t freeze. But now it’s balmy. There is a late afternoon breeze that is one of the first true harbingers of spring. It’s an hour before sunset so there’s this reddish orange glow that just makes people look… beautiful. Most folks just seem happier. It’ll get cold again, we know it, but for now it is the perfect time to get outside, to celebrate the weather, to go to the mall.

Girls wearing low risers (Is that the term? We used to call them hip huggers). Young guys with sagging pants, their hands reaching back to hoist them up like windshield wipers on intermittent. Young families with kids in tow or kids in strollers. Military men and women wearing the new sort of small-checked design camouflage fatigues. I guess they just haven’t had the chance to change from what they wear to work. They’re not camouflaged very well here.

Two lovely young African American teens with the most beautiful braids and twists. Those two care about hair. They are both smiling broadly. Beaming. A mom and daughter wearing matching cutoffs – probably for the first time in months. Their legs are pale. The young girl, maybe 12, has almost white blond hair. Long and straight. Bright blue eyes. Mom’s eyes are the exact same color. Her hair used to be authentic blond. You can tell. They make each other laugh. Then they tilt their heads together and the mom suddenly looks about twenty years younger.

The next pair that walks by has been fighting I think. Her head is down, her blackish-red hair covers her face. Low risers. Shoulders slumped in a shuffling sad walk. Sandals.  Her arms are crossed over her chest. She has a name tattooed on her sleeveless triceps. Adam. She looks like she might be crying. Adam (I presume) looks nonchalant, like he couldn’t care less, like he doesn’t have a care in the world. The young woman says something I can’t hear. He answers. I can’t hear him either, they’re on the other side of the glass. But I can read his lips easily. It isn’t pretty, what he says. They walk on by.

My attention is drawn to an older couple who walk in slowly and carefully. I’m not eavesdropping but I can hear. They are close to me. They approach the booth next door. “You always like a booth,” says he. They are holding hands.

“And you always let me have the booth,” she says. And I'm thinking, how many times have they said that? “Thank you, dear,” and it sounds like she says ‘dee–uh’ her voice is so soft, so southern.

They are old. Eightyish, maybe older. The woman has on rouge and lipstick and eye shadow. She is well put together. But she moves into the booth slowly. She has a limp too. Maybe a bum hip. Her man helps her as much as he can. And he is gentle. So gentle. He scoots into the booth across from her. Their eyes shine for each other. They put the little pager on the table between them, the one that buzzes and lights up when their food is ready.

Then it strikes me that this beautiful woman looks a lot like my Heidi – at least how Heidi might possibly look in 30 years. This gal has had her hair dyed, Heidi probably won’t do that, but her eyes are clear and she has that kind of natural beauty that one doesn’t outgrow. She has a beautiful presence as well. She doesn’t just look at her man when they talk, she looks into him. I know that look. I am in love with it. I have been for 33 years.

Their table buzzer goes off and sort of startles them both. He slides over to the edge of the booth and stands up slowly, a little creakily. He makes two trips and when he returns with both of their food trays, he slides back in. They get everything adjusted in front of them, drinks, silverware, sandwiches, napkins. Automatically, as if they have done this countless times, they reach their hands across the table and lace fingers. They bow their heads and close their eyes. They sigh identical long sighs. And I’m thinking, how many times have they sighed that sigh?

Man says, “Lord we thank thee for this day you have made. Bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies and our souls. Lord, let us pause before we eat and think of ones in need of food and shelter and of love.” Pause. “And Lord thank you so much for the love of this beautiful woman.”

Eyes closed, they smile. Not so much at each other now. They’re smiling at God. And I’m thinking, how many times have they thanked God for each other?
Then they unlace their hands and look at each other with love. Quietly, slowly they begin to eat.

And I’m thinking how I forgot to bless my food – Hey, I am in a restaurant - Hey, this is a public place. But then I close my eyes and I sigh and I take a moment to give thanks once again for my Heidi. And I am grateful for that little moment. After a hectic day, a long week, it wasn’t just chance that led me to sit at that table, in that restaurant, with my notebook and eyes open. I am grateful.

I get up and bus my table and look back at the couple before leaving. They have eyes only for each other. It is so sweet, so God.

Then I head back to school and Don Knotts and "Mr. Limpett".

Saturday, January 5, 2013


As soon as my class of second graders came together after the December 14th killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School – many children wanted to talk about it.  It wasn’t easy.  We talk about the news almost every day.  I often do a little review of the news from the paper or news stories I have just heard on NPR on my way to school.  The debates and elections were huge for us.  We learn so much about how the world works through current events.

Of course there are news items that young ones won’t understand.  There are stories I won’t bring up.  For obvious reasons.  But as soon as we sat down to share News and Journals the kids wanted to talk about Sandy Hook.  Of course they did.  How could they not be concerned?  Since talking about what is happening in the world is what we do, it was as natural as anything to share their feelings.  

Their biggest question was, “Why?”  And, of course there was no clear answer for that.  And, at my insistence, we directed our attention away from the weapons and the shooter.  We talked about the children and teachers, the survivors, the sadness, and how hard it would be to get past this.  We talked about the bravery of the children and adults in the school. 

I am no expert in child psychology.  When big tragedies come up I do not know exactly what is the best way to handle it.  My first response to our children was – we are safe.  Nothing like that will happen to us.  I limited our talk to a fairly short time and no one had to say anything if they didn’t want to.  I encouraged them to talk to their parents if they wanted and to just remember how lucky we are to have parents and other adults who love us and protect us. 

On our first day back from Winter Break, we wrote letters.   I told everyone that I wasn’t sure who would open our package – if anyone at all.  They didn’t mind.  It was doing something that seemed important.  When I asked the kids what we could write about, the suggestions were brilliant and sweet and sincere and touching. 

I am not sure who to send them to, and maybe it doesn’t really matter.   I will mail them. 

Sandy Hook Elementary School
Newtown, CT

Our package is a message in a bottle.  And if no one ever reads them, that’s OK.  The hour or so that my young friends spent writing and drawing may have been one of the most important things we will do in the two years we’ll be together.

Dear the person who is reading this note…I don’t know whose hands this will be given to…  I love my friends…  Dear Kids…  Dear Anyone…  Dear People in Connecticut…  Dear Someone…  Dear Guys…  To the tragic school friends, families, loved ones…  I am not sure who I am writing to… 

I feel bad for your friends or teachers…  I know you will find new friends…  I feel really bad for you and hope that you will be happy…  I will always remember you.  Please make new friends.  You can do it…  I always want you to know that you are in my heart…  I am so glad that you guys are safe.  What matters to me the most is that you are safe and unharmed…  You should grow up to be good, nice and be loved…  You are safe in a new school and you have a new sweet teacher…  I would have tried to save you if I was there…  Give support to your friends and look out for others…  I know that you were scared and brave and you are cool kids…  I know that I can’t bring your friends back but I can give you hope…  I know your friends are in God’s hands.  I know that you are well protected…  If I could bring your friends back to life I would…  When I heard your friends were killed I almost burst out crying…  Sit by some friends and comfort them…  Even though I don’t know you – I still love you…  Whenever I think about you guys there is sadness in my heart.  I love you guys.

One of the kids asked, before we sat down to write, if she could sign her letter with the word love.  “How can you love someone you’ve never met?” asked one.  “Well I love them, answered a little boy instantly.  Almost all of the letters that grew out of our conversation were signed with the most powerful word there is.


It’s easy to feel hopeless after a tragedy like this; a tragedy which could have been avoided or lessened but for the foolishness of grownups.  But as I looked around our classroom and saw those 22 beautiful faces, 22 earnest, sincere, caring children trying to make someone feel better with their words – it gave me hope. 

A long time from now, when the folks of Newtown can look back on the memories of their loved ones and smile, when their images bring only happiness  - then love will conquer the hate and sickness that brought so much sadness to their little community.