Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy Xmas (War is Over)

I know it’s after Christmas.  It seems my Christmas posts are often after the fact.  Hey, it’s a busy season.  But you know that.  

Last year, Heidi was just recovering from brain surgery.  That’s what got written.  The year before I was with my mom for her last days at Christmas time.  I missed her.  So it’s been a couple of years since I wrote a Christmas post. 

It’s New Year’s Eve and we just took down the ornaments from the tree, wound up the Christmas lights, carried the tree outdoors, swept up the pine needles, put the boxes of decorations back into the attic, put away our suitcases from our Christmas travels, tucked away our presents, put the house back in order.  It is a good feeling to get back to normal.  Sort of. 

When we were putting up the tree in early December, it was fun to put create a “Traditional American Christmas” station on Pandora.  When else are you going to listen to Dean Martin, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, old Nat and the rest of the Christmas Crooners?  “Jingle Bell Rock” feels right.  I love hearing “Merry Christmas Baby” and “Santa Clause Is Coming To Town” by Springsteen.  No other time does the music reflect the season.

I have to admit that Christmas music gets old after a while and the commercialism creeps in…  What are we going to get for her?  Is that enough of a present?  We aren’t regifting that to the person who gave it to us, right? 

So, I’m glad it’s over.  Time to return to normal.  Normal clothes, normal food, normal music, normal day-to-day. 

During the season I heard “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” by John Lennon.  I have always loved that song. The lyrics are so sweet, so simple, so inspired.  It is a best-wishes song filled with positive affirmations.  It is also a dare.  Seems to me that Lennon dared us to make the world a better place for the weak, the strong, the rich, the poor.  For the black, white, yellow and red ones.

But we have to work at it. While the world is so wrong, we can do better.  Right?  The lyrics in parentheses say it all.  War is over if you want it.  War is over if you want it.  War is over if you want it.  War is over.  Now.  It’s almost like a mantra.  Would that the whole world would repeat this simple mantra.  Maybe then we could have the world that Christ wanted for all of us.

Here is one of Lennon’s gifts to us.  It is fun to listen to.  Very hard to watch.  Not one for the kiddies to see.  That’s for sure. 

"Happy Xmas (War Is Over)"

(Happy Xmas Kyoko
Happy Xmas Julian)

So this is Xmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
And so this is Xmas
I hope you have fun
The near and the dear one
The old and the young

A very Merry Xmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Xmas (war is over)
For weak and for strong (if you want it)
For rich and the poor ones (war is over)
The world is so wrong (if you want it)
And so happy Xmas (war is over)
For black and for white (if you want it)
For yellow and red ones (war is over)
Let's stop all the fight (now)

A very Merry Xmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

And so this is Xmas (war is over)
And what have we done (if you want it)
Another year over (war is over)
A new one just begun (if you want it)
And so happy Xmas (war is over)
We hope you have fun (if you want it)
The near and the dear one (war is over)
The old and the young (now)

A very Merry Xmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

War is over, if you want it
War is over now

Happy Xmas

If you are one of the folks who read my blog – thanks.   I would probably write anyway, but it is reassuring to know that someone at the other end takes a look.  Have a happy and peaceful new year.  Let’s make it a good one.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Great Gig

It was the end of the day.  We were getting ready to head out of the classroom to carpool and the rest of the afternoon at our homes.  I had just finished reading today’s installment of Shiloh Season, By Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.  The kids are into the book.  In some ways it was a regular day.  Sort of an average day.  The kids had their homework written down, their backpacks packed and were dutifully putting their chairs up on the tables so the custodian could vacuum underneath the tables.  It was a tiny bit hectic, but everything was going smoothly. 

Amidst all of the noise and commotion, I heard one of my little guys say, “I love you, Mr. O.”   Since I wasn’t exactly sure I heard correctly, I walked over to him. 

“Hmmm?” I asked. 

“I just said I love you.”

“Wow,” I said and I gave him a little hug.  And a little noogie.  “I love you too.”

That is exactly the kind of thing that changes a day from normal to extraordinary for me.  I often say to the whole class that I love them.  It’s usually at the end of the day, often on a Friday, when we are getting ready to exit.  I’ll stop everyone, turn the lights off, and ask for complete silence.  A little theatrical I know.  “I don’t say this as much as I should.  But I love you all.  I am a lucky guy to work with you.  Have a great weekend.  See you Monday.”  Something like that. 

I didn’t used to say it out loud.  When I was a younger teacher, I thought it was weird.  Certainly I have never had a teacher who told me that she loved me.  It didn’t feel right.  The older I get, the freer I am about saying that. 

But this is the first time in a long time that one of my kids said it to me in front of everyone.  Out of the blue.   And it felt fine.

I mean, why not?  When you are with children for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week for 180 school days, you get to know them pretty well.  And I have these kids for second and third grade.  That is 360 days, 2,520 hours, over 150,000 minutes together.  That’s a lot of face time.  We eat together at lunch, play together on the recess field, work hard together solving problems and creating stories.  Kids who come in to me at the beginning of second grade are often reading pretty simple books like The Cat in the Hat or The Magic Tree House and leave third grade reading Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia.  

Last week we finished reading The Music of Dolphins together.  And some of them cried at the ending.  So, yeah, we even cry together.  When you are with someone for that much time, you can finish each other’s sentences.  We know about each other’s triumphs and tragedies.  We celebrate the birth of little brothers and sisters; know about each other’s passions, know each other’s families. 

And the stuff we learn isn’t just about the 3 R’s.  We teach other about our interests, our favorite authors, and our favorite songs.  We write songs together, watch films together, tell each other jokes.  We share questions and what is happening in the world.  When I had to put my old dog to sleep a couple weeks ago, it made me feel good to be able to tell my students.  They shared my pain, they eased my burden.  That’s what friends do.

Last week, when we were coming in from the recess field and a vigorous game of dodge ball, we were chatting it up before entering the building.  It was a bright chilly day, the kind of day when your nose runs if you exert yourself.  We were all exerted. 

“Hey, Mr. O., you’ve got something in your nose,” said one little girl.

“Yeah, it’s snot,” said her best friend.

“It’s all over your upper lip,” said the first, matter-of-factly.

I reached into my pocket for a tissue or a paper towel.  Nothing.  “Here,” said the first girl.  She reached into her lunchbox.  “It hasn’t been used yet.”  She gave me a napkin.  Believe me, I wasn’t picky at that point (pardon the pun). 

That’s what friends do, right?  I would have said the same to them.  I frequently do.  If I had told Sister Rachael Marie, my second grade teacher, that she had snot on her face, she would have boxed my ears without even thinking about it.  And I surely would have never told her I loved her.

I don’t know many grownups who like their jobs as well as I do.  I mean, how many people get to be with a big group of best friends all day, thinking together, challenging each other, solving problems, thinking about how the world works, learning to write in cursive, singing songs, reading favorite books and writing stories?  Not to mention sharing lunch and playing dodge ball. 

I have been doing this since 1979.  Whew, it has been a good run.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Who Are You Going To Trust?

It is an amazing thing to see how the far right in our country has taken on the Pope.  The Pope.  Who are you going to trust with deciding what is best for the poor, Rush Limbaugh or Pope Francis?  Hmmm.

I have to say that I love this pope.  He is different than any other in my lifetime.  He is humble, caring, kind.  He is as inclusive as any religious leader I have ever heard of.  He kissed the feet of a woman – a Muslim woman.  When asked what he thought about gay priests, he said, Who am I to judge?” 

“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality,” he said to Jesuit priest Fr. Antonio Spadaro, who conducted the interview for La Civilta Cattolica. “I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.”

While I definitely do not agree with everything he believes, Pope Francis is authentic, fresh, filled with a sense of social justice.  He is not afraid to ruffle feathers and take on institutions and thought collectives that have been staunchly oppressive.  He sounds like a follower of Christ.

Remember what Ghandi said about Christianity?  Wasn’t it something like, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."  Pope Francis is so much like our Christ.

Here are a couple quotes from an interview he gave with LaCivilta Cattolica in Rome:

"God is in everyone's life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else -  God is in this person's life."

"If one has the answers to all the questions - that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself.”

He even found fault with Catholic church for focusing too much on gays, abortion and contraception, saying the church has become "obsessed" with those issues.

All of these views have made many people uncomfortable.  But what really angered the ultra conservatives were his views on trickle down economics. 

“… Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories, which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and na├»ve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle, which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase; and in the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”

Rush Limbaugh said of the pope’s views, “It’s actually unbelievable. It’s sad because this pope makes it very clear he doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to capitalism and socialism and so forth.”  Mr. Limbaugh called the pope’s ideas, “totally, dramatically, embarrassing wrong.”

Of course FOX “News” had to weigh in with their illogical rhetoric.  An example is this piece by Adam Shaw, an editor as foxnews.com. “Like Obama, Francis is unable to see the problems that are really endangering his people. Like Obama he mistakes the faithful for the enemy, the enemy for his friend, condescension for respect, socialism for justice and capitalism for tyranny.” 

You know if the guy is comparing Pope Francis to President Obama, it has to be hate. 

So, who do you think has the welfare of the poor truly in his heart?  Pope Francis…(When we are generous in welcoming people and sharing something with them—some food, a place in our homes, our time—not only do we no longer remain poor: we are enriched. I am well aware that when someone needing food knocks at your door, you always find a way of sharing food; as the proverb says, one can always ‘add more water to the beans’! Is it possible to add more water to the beans?…Always?…And you do so with love, demonstrating that true riches consist not in materials things, but in the heart! 

… Or Rush Limbaugh, who makes 50 million dollars a year, who compares people who receive welfare to wild animals that become dependent on people for food.


Me?  I’m going with the pope.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

My Good Friend

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring--it was peace.” 
 Milan Kundera

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” 
― Will Rogers

Yesterday we had to put our old dog Sasha to sleep.  It had been a rough six months or so.  Her left elbow was hurting her.  An x-ray showed lots of arthritis there.  She was moving slower and slower.  I built her a handicapped ramp so she could get up and down from the back porch on her own.  Things got hard for her last spring.  Then the vet gave us a combination of pain pills and anti-inflamitories that made her much more comfortable.  She was almost her old self again.  And she was definitely happy.

When I woke up early in the morning, when it was still dark and cold outside, she would be there wagging her tail and smiling and leaning into my petting and hugs.  She sort of groaned when I rubbed her ears.  She rolled over and liked to have her chest rubbed.  Her tongue would loll out of her mouth when she was on her back.

When I had insomnia, she would wander out to the living room where I read on the couch and just lay on the small rug nearby.  She just wanted to be in our presence.  Day or night.  And I liked to be in hers.  It was a comfort.  

Sasha was there to bear witness to the raising of our kids.  I think in some ways she helped to raise them.  She was a puppy when Devin and Colin were pups.  As they grew up, so did she.  When they moved to college the house was quiet when I woke up or when I got back from work.  But Sasha was there to wag and smile and greet and receive love and to give it back.

Owning a dog is a selfish act in many ways.  Dogs are love machines.  It's unconditional.  They hold no grudges.  There is no need for pretense when you are around dogs.  They are patient and wait for you to come back from a bad mood or a hard day.  They love taking you for a walk.  They listen when you complain, forgive you instantly when you make a mistake, they are grateful for everything.  While Sasha was in incessant shedder, she kept the kitchen floor clean of crumbs and the stray bit of dropped food.  There was never a time when I came home, that she wasn't sincerely glad to see me.  That is the way of dogs.

Heidi and I said that we would know when to let her go.  She was quite old for a lab - around 16 1/2.  We knew that it was just a matter of time now.  While she used to drag us around the neighborhood, her walks for the last year or so were just down to the corner and back.  It was getting harder for her to stand up when she was laying down.  During the last few days she was less and less responsive when her name was called or when people came in.  She was listless.  Then her back hip seemed to just give out.  She could barely walk.  And it was time.

I was with her when the doc gave her the shot.  I cried hard.  I held her as she took her last breath.  It was sort of a sigh.  The vet put his stethoscope to her chest, but I knew she was already gone.  I could feel her life leaving.  I have to say that part of me left with her.  

I brought her body home in a big nylon bag.  Devin and I buried her at the bottom of our hill.  She liked sniffing around down there when we had bonfires, searching for bits of food or burnt marshmallows pitched into the dark by the little ones.  I'm glad that Dev did it with me.  While he doesn't show his emotions as much as I do, I know that he will miss that big old yellow dog.  We all will.  I texted the boys and Heidi when it was over.  I was too sad to talk.  But when Colin called from campus, he cried too.  He said that he couldn't remember a time in his life when Sasha wasn't around.  

I wrote this song for Sasha when she was a young dog.  I didn't know when I wrote it how much I would come to love her.  We were sure lucky to her our paths cross for all of these years.  Sasha was a good old dog.

Big Yellow Dog
I've got me a big yellow dog, and my dog she's got me too
There are some days when I work so hard
And I come home feeling restless and blue
But my big yellow dog she's sittin' there
With that dog grin on her face
Her tails a waggin', she's comin' up to greet me
And I know I'm in the right place.

Now the time I spend with my big yellow dog
Might be considered wasteful to some
Sittin' on the porch, scratching her belly
Getting licked by her big old tongue
She's sniffin' all around trying to catch some smell
To try to make sense out of my day
And I'm sittin' here with a dozen things to do
And all she wants to do is play

I don't know if she'd rescue me from a burning building or not
But when I think of that pretty yellow dog
I know my love will never stop
I know my love will never stop

Now my big yellow dog, she doesn't need much
Just some bowls with some water and some food
And a dusty rug at the bottom of the steps
Where she guards us when she's in the mood
And a bath sometimes when she's been a bad girl
And she's rolled in some stinky old thing
But the love she gives back in return
Is worth more than anything

The time I spend with my big yellow dog
I don't grow any older it seems
I don't watch the news or answer emails
Or read any magazines
I don't pay the bills, I don't talk shop
I can't get much of nothin' done
But I can mow the grass and water the flowers
We like to hang out in the sun


Now I can't say I haven't smacked that girl
When she's done some bad girl things
But I feel bad when she feels bad
And it comes back to haunt me it seems
And when her time to go has passed
And she's buried at the bottom of the hill
I'll think of her and that big yellow face
And I know I'll love her still