I remember checking out videos from the library and after finishing them removing the video from the VCR and putting them in the rewinder. To this day, I can't hear, "Be kind" without thinking rewind. Today is World Kindness Day according to the Facebook posts and my morning greeting from Alexa. I am tempted to research how long World Kindness Day has been a thing, who started it, and who is celebrating it, but instead, I’m going to refrain from that extraneous research and go with it.
On my recent trip to Seneca Falls, New York, I learned a great deal about kindness and the great impact ordinary individuals can have on the world around them. We arrived in Seneca Falls after sunset. The small downtown area was decorated for Christmas, a gentle snow was falling, and the church bells were ringing out “How Firm a Foundation.” I told my sister that I was reminded of Bedford Falls, the town from It’s a Wonderful Life and she immediately agreed. As we were checking in, the hotel clerk gave us a list of area attractions including the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum. He explained that Seneca Falls is the town that Bedford Falls is based on.
Our days there included a visit to the Women’s Rights Historical Park, Elizabeth Caddy Stanton’s home, William Seward’s home, and Harriet Tubman National Historic Park. In each of these places, we noted the influence of major figures like Anthony, Stanton, Seward, and Tubman, but we also noticed the courage, conviction, and compassion of those whose names will most likely never be included in a national park or museum.
There were countless women who stood up for the rights of others. As I previously wrote, the subject of women’s rights can be controversial, but here we are talking about rights such as property ownership and the right to remove themselves and their children from a dangerous and abusive husband. Women who were not destitute or in danger took upon them the fight that the others in those situations didn’t have the ability to fight.
William Seward was a remarkable man who served with Lincoln as Secretary of State but was responsible for doing so much more. One act stood out as particularly significant during our visit. He sold land to Harriet Tubman including a home that she and her parents lived in after their escape from enslavement. This was after the Fugitive Slave Act and before the Emancipation Proclamation so his action was in direct defiance of federal law, but he believed that it was the right thing to do.
Harriet Tubman’s life was full of her kindness to others despite being enslaved and mistreated. Often the word kindness invokes a soft-spoken, gentle manner, but Harriet was kind in a powerful way. She went back into the South thirteen times to rescue her people, ignoring her own safety. She also led troops into combat and freed 750 men, women, and children during a US military action. Retirement was anything but restful. She opened a home for the elderly on her land because the other home for the elderly in Auburn was for whites only. Her home was for everyone. Harriet Tubman exemplified kindness in action.
Our last stop during the trip was at the It’s a Wonderful Life Museum. There we learned the beautiful story behind the movie. Frank Capra stopped in the town after reading the short story which would become the movie. There, while receiving a hair cut from an Italian immigrant, he heard the story of Antonio Varacalli. In 1917, Antonio was a young man working to save up money to bring his family over from war-torn Italy. He watched a woman jump off the bridge in an attempt to commit suicide and jumped in to save her. He succeeded in saving her but lost his life in the process. The town rallied together and collected enough to bring his family to the area. Capra changed the ending of the movie to include the town rallying around George and set the movie in a place that looked like Antonio’s town.
Acts of kindness can be small or large. They can be quiet or they can be bold. This “World Kindness Day” rewind your thoughts to some of the people who have influenced your life. How has their influence changed you? As Clarence observed, “Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?” Today, don’t leave a hole. Get in there and influence someone. Maybe a child, maybe the person behind you in line at Starbucks, maybe a future generation.
Capra modeled the bridge in the movie after this bridge in Seneca Falls.
I’m a huge fan of Far Side by Gary Larson. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a syndicated comic that was usually one pannel. The figures are distorted and the humor is quirky. One that has stuck with me was titled “Classic Conversation Stoppers.” The panel is divided into four squares and depicts four men talking to guests. Each of the men is saying something that is guaranteed to end a conversation. My favorite is the guy saying, “‘Contagious? Contagious?’ I asked my doctor. ‘Realy contagious,’ he tells me.” Insert awkward pause. Have you ever experienced something like this? You say something and people respond with awkward silence.
Last year I created a presentation about World War I to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the war. After completing that I decided to work on a presentation commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the Constitution, which grants women the right to vote. I thought World War I had been tricky to investigate, but nothing could have prepared me for the mess that I’ve found during my study of the women’s suffrage movement.
In my research, I’ve studied Biblical anthropology - the study of humans as they relate to God, the history of women in the United States and Western Culture, and the philosophical foundations of the feminist movement. Phew! I’ve read about Upity Women of Medieval Times, Wild Women of Michigan, 12 Extraordinary Women of the Bible. I’ve read The Women’s Hour, Roses and Radicals, and (I truly loved this one) Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Relating to business I’m reading Lean In and, as a counterpoint, Lean Out. I’m intrigued and immensely enjoying this research, but all these viewpoints and counterpoints leave my brain a tangled mess. When my thoughts become tangled, I find the best method of unraveling them is talking. I’ve come up with some of my best party planning ideas when talking to the cashier while at the supermarket checkout. (Probably why I’m not interested in curbside pick up or grocery delivery.)
In the past few months, I’ve learned that the phrase, “I’m studying the history of women’s rights,” is a classic conversation stopper. People become uncomfortable and shift around looking for an out. One person abruptly stated they had to leave and ran away. I think most people are afraid of getting involved in a controversial conversation because of the tension in our current culture.
Viewpoints collide and emotions run deep, but I believe that this is a very important and vital study. I keep typing and deleting as I’m trying to explain further, but I’ll never be able to fit everything I want to say in this post. I’m going to state a few truths I’ve discovered, and leave it at that for now.
That’s all I’m going to say about this for now. I can already feel the discomfort and I can hear the, “Well, I don’t know what she means by that,” running through your mind. Feel free to comment below or message me if you want to talk more about this and look for future posts about women’s rights. Wait! Where are you going? I need someone to talk to about this!
Tomorrow my sister and I head out to visit the Women’s Rights National Monument. It is in Seneca Falls, New York and is the sight of the first Women’s Rights Convention where the suffrage issue (women voting) was first publically proposed. As I research this topic, I feel that visiting this monument will help me gain a deeper perspective on the issue and the time spent with my sister will help me unravel my thoughts. Follow along on my Instagram (@edy2207) story for an inside look at our adventure.
I recently had the amazing opportunity to present at a teacher's convention. This particular convention included Christian educators from all over the Great Lakes Region. I presented about World War I and about teaching history with a Biblical worldview. I think I'm supposed to be all calm and professional about it, but can I just say -- THAT WAS SO MUCH FUN!!! I got to talk to teachers and talk about nerdy history stuff and it was just the best! Okay, back to sounding like a calm adult. I would relish any other opportunities to speak to groups in the future should the opportunity arise.
Although my presentations weren't specifically about reading books, I had stacks of books to recommend at each. I see immense benefits in students reading across a broad spectrum of genres and topics. Reading allows students to take their education into their own hands and study what they are interested in. Because we all differ so much in personality, it is always difficult if not impossible to find books that please everyone. When teaching 6th-grade reading, I used a method that I learned from Donalyn Miller in The Book Whisper. I assigned a total of 36 books for my students to read throughout the school year. I know this sounds daunting, but here's how it worked.
I used this method for three years and saw immense success. Pitfalls could arise so it's important for each teacher using this program to consider the definition of success that best matches their goals. My goal was to encourage literacy and get students reading. I had some students that only managed to read 5 or 10 books. I saw this as a win. As long as they noted everything and turned it in they at least got a C grade. (By the way, a C is and is acceptable. I'll write about that another day.)
I also allowed and even encouraged students to read graphic novels. Nathan Hale writes fantastic graphic novels in the historical fiction genre. Some graphic novels, such as Snow White, have little to no words but tell a compelling story. I would talk with students and make sure they understood the symbolism and picked up on the literary devices the author employed in the illustrations. Learning to "read" pictures is a very powerful tool especially in this day when images are king.
For my class, success equaled books consumed. And did my students consume books! During the 2015-16 school year, I had 52 students and we read over 1,400 books. Below, you can see a picture of our book chain. So that's how I taught reading. I got to read and learn with the students and we all grew. Maybe it isn't for every classroom, but I can't imagine my life without this experience.
What was your classroom reading experience like as a middle school and high school student? Comment below and let me know.
As I write this I am sitting in front of what is known as the "Rosa Parks Bus." It is the bus that the famous incident involving Mrs. Parks refusing to give up her seat took place. In my research on the American Woman Parks' name has come up several times.
Let me back up. This week Logan and his buddy Derek are participating in Day Camp at the Henry Ford. The Henry Ford is like Disney World for history nerds and is a must see. The Henry Ford is made up of multiple institutions the main two being the Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village. When Henry Ford created them his goal was to tell history from the perspective of the average American. History is about presidents and important figures, but it's also about the innovations that impact our every day lives. Both the Village and Museum are dedicated to celebrating those innovations and honoring our nation's history.
So, back to the bus. In just the few minutes it's taken to type this, almost 50 people have climbed on and off the bus. A docent inside tells the story of that December day in Alabama and points out the seat that Parks refused to give up. The children inside excitedly vie to sit in the exact spot then skip off happy that they've experienced a part of history. There's even a Scandinavian tour group with professional film equipment filming about it. I have no idea what they are saying but it’s interesting to watch them explore the history of our country.
In my research about American women, I've come across Rosa Parks several times. Each time I've read that she is brave because she sat. When I read this it's felt like something has been missing. There were several people before Parks who were arrested for refusing to give up their seats which made me wonder what was different about their story. They sat. Why don't their names go down in history?
Oddly enough the answer came when I was reading the book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. In the chapter referring to habits of societies, Duhigg explains that Parks was a unique individual because of her character and her community involvement. "Parks' many friendships and affiliations cut across the city's racial and economic lines. She was the secretary of the local NAACP chapter, attended the Methodist church, and helped oversee a youth organization at the Lutheran church near her home. She spent some weekends volunteering at a shelter, others with a botanical club, and on Wednesday nights often joined a group of women who knit blankets for a local hospital. She volunteered dressmaking services to poor families and provided last-minute gown alterations for wealthy white debutantes." He goes on to connect the facts and mentions that the previous riders who refused to move were arrested, but nothing came of it because they were unknowns, yet when Rosa Parks was arrested it caused a ripple through the community. She had invested her time in the community and that community came to her support.
But all that community doesn’t explain my discomfort with celebrating Rosa Parks for "sitting." Duhigg, after detailing Parks' community involvement, explained that the former leader of the Montgomery NAACP and a white lawyer named Clifford Durr bailed her out of jail. Community leaders had been looking for a case to challenge bus segregation and with Parks' sterling reputation they believed they had found a worthy cause to take to the courts. Parks' husband was initially opposed to the idea because he knew the danger she was putting herself in. Her husband's warning, "The white folks will kill you, Rosa," was not an empty worry. Threats of violence and death were common for those who dared to alter the status quo, but despite the possible danger, Parks allowed her case to be the rally point for the protests and the boycott. Both she and her husband lost their jobs and received multiple death threats. Yet, she didn't give in and she allowed her case to move through the courts. Eventually, they moved to Detroit hoping to start over after losing so much.
There! There it is! Now, I am beginning to understand what was so remarkable about her. She shouldn't be remembered as a woman who sat. She should be remembered for 1.) Her kindness and community involvement. 2.) Refusing to move despite knowing the possibility of arrest or physical violence. (I was told by the docent that the bus drivers often carried clubs or guns to enforce the rules.) 3.) Standing and allowing her arrest to be used in the court case that changed a city and became a major event in the Civil Rights Movement despite the costs. Too often we relegate people's stories to a paragraph and forget that their lives are as complicated and as deep as our own.
Rosa Parks' story is one of compassion, community, and courage. She didn't receive the notoriety she has today until much later in her life. In our culture of instant gratification, it is important to share that standing up for something and being remembered rarely happens for those who don't have a depth of character. We need to remember that standing for what you believe in is not easy and will likely not lead to fame and success, but doing something because you believe it is the right thing to do may just change the world.
Rosa Parks visited the Greenfield Village in 1992. These photos are of her at the Mattox House.
Influence is something I think about quite often. I thing about those who have influenced my life and the people I've influenced. We most often we use this word to describe the positive things that people add to our lives but really, influence is just having an effect on something.
The mind-boggling thing about influence is that you never know where it will go. If you let someone in during a traffic jam and give them a friendly wave, they just relaxed and smiled. That altered their day slightly and maybe they were a bit more forgiving when someone needed to cut in on them. Liberty Mutual Insurance made a series of commercials about kindness and showing care for others. In the commercials someone does something nice and is observed by someone else who then passes it on.
Unfortunately, this influence can also go in the opposite direction. If I start my day yelling at Logan, he goes off to school feeling defeated and frustrated. He may act unkindly towards a classmate passing on my bad mood and spreading it around his community like a virus that slowly eats away at the fabric of kindness and compassion the teachers attempt to build.
Knowing this, I try very hard to show kindness and compassion to all those I come in contact with. Believe me. I fail regularly, but I do make a concentrated effort to do so. This is part of intentional living. Knowing that I will influence the day of my cashier at the grocery store, I ask, "How are you?" and listen to the response. I might ask if the store is busy or if they've had a good day. One day the store was slow enough we had time to talk about Bible studies and I invited her to church. I may or may not ever see this person again, but I know that by showing kindness I have represented my faith, my life, and my being in a fashion that honor's God. Not everyone is receptive. Sometimes people are already having a bad day or they are distracted. That's okay. If you see this just behave politely and respectfully (both are forms of kindness) and move on.
Showing kindness in small ways usually has small results. Giving someone a smile you get a smile in return, but sometimes these kindness can compound and grow. Smiles can lead to greetings, which can lead to meetings, which can lead to friendships, which can lead anywhere. Opening your home to friends, giving to strangers, supporting the efforts of those you love, these can compound in major ways.
I'm currently reading Ron Chernow's biography of George Washington. Although I am in the very beginning of this massive work, I can already see the power of influence in Chernow's story. The first anecdote that caught my attention was one about Washington's mother, Mary Ball. She became an orphan at age twelve. A dangerous thing for a young girl in the fledgling colonies. She was taken in and gently cared for by a kind family friend, George Eskridge. She recorded that she named her first son in his honor. So George Eskridge and his life may be resigned to the oblivion of historical record, but his namesake George Washington is a testament to the power of kindness. Another example from the life of Washington is the influence of a British admiral upon his elder brother Lawrence, who owned an estate known then as Little Hunting Creek. Lawrence was so taken with affection for Admiral Vernon that he re-named his estate after him. Admiral Vernon may not be recognized in the history books, but visitors to Mount Vernon will remember his name as gracing what became the younger brother's beloved estate.
Do not be discouraged when your kindness is not returned immediately. You don't know the impact your gesture will make so just do the right thing and move on. I've sent encouraging letters and gifts to people and never heard back regarding their thoughts. (This really doesn't bother me. Once a gift is sent or given it is no longer mine to control.) Years later, when talking to the recipient of the letter, I discover that my letter is hanging in their room as an encouragement to them. That knowledge is immensely encouraging and shows me that God will use my work without me having to intervene or control the situation. When you do what you are supposed to do, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you," you make room for God doing the work.
I don't know how my small kindnesses will be used in the life of a letter recipient or the cashier at the grocery store, but I do know that God is working and he's called me to show kindness, so I will. Can you think of a time when someone's kindness directly impacted your life in a compounding way? Honor them by passing it on.
This post was published at exactly 11:00 Paris time which is 5:00 am here in Michigan. That is the exact time 100 years ago when men lay down their arms and the world celebrated the end of the War to End All Wars. The celebrations were massive as people felt hope and peace that had been missing for the previous four years. They longed for a period of peace and rest after years of anxiety and doubt.
100 ago less than 35% of the American population had electric lighting. Radio was not yet a mode of communication and people were wondering if cars could ever replace horses. Their lives seem so foreign to us, but in truth we have so much in common. We hate to see the hatred that tears our country apart. We fret and pray while watching fire destroy homes and land. We fear terror and violence. So much has changed and yet, so much hasn't.
Before the war, people had faith in humanity and the hope that through science and technology the world could see perfection. The war shattered that illusion. Men shot and killed each other over yards of land. They launched gas attacks and watched as men gagged and suffocated to death. After the war, many suffered from Shell Shock, or what we would call PTSD, but never received any kind of care or treatment. The world embraced the "Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die!" because there was no point to life. They lost hope. They lost faith.
With all the reading I have been doing about World War I, it has been really difficult not to get depressed after reading about the atrocities and tragedies. For example - Look at the photo above. Look at those happy joyful people. In 1919, a pandemic flu will come through and 1/3 of the world's population becomes infected and another 50 million people will die. 50 million. What happened to all that hope? How can you find hope in the midst of that?
But then a verse that we usually associate with Christmas came to mind and I have been meditating on it ever since. Isaiah 9:6, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." If that doesn't fill you with hope than truly nothing will. People do nice things sometimes and I love that, but I don't place my hope in people. They will always fail you, but rather my hope is in Christ.
The future is coming when War will cease and we will finally know peace. The Prince of Peace will reign and death will be no more. Isn't that something worth celebrating?
The poppy is the flower of remembrance. I owe a great debt of gratitude to the many men and women who have served and who are still serving in the military. Thank you for your service and the sacrifice. You sacrifice your comfort, your time, your family, and your lives to see that our nation is protected. Thank you. You are remembered and loved.
A young Jessie is at the top of this photo. They may have to sit still and not smile for the photos, but these were some wild and fun women, I'm sure! Jessie would have been about 20 years older by the time she wrote these letters. The solider is not Walter Hill, but Walter would have been outfitted like this and been similar in appearance.
Tonight I'm finishing up transposing another letter. I just LOVE this eyewitness account of the war! I imagine Walter getting the letter and wondering, "Hmm, who could this be from?" then laughing with pleasure when he realizes that his old teacher took the time to write him. It seems as though they are completely out of touch, but she must have found him through a local organization. Teachers use the phrase "my kids" to refer to their students in the same way that parents do because they share a very special bond with their students. Clearly, Walter Hill was one of Jessie's kids.
I've printed his words in gray and added some of my own thoughts in italicized blue. The wording is mostly his and some words were very difficult to decipher.
I received your letter and was very glad and also surprised to hear from you. You laughed at me about 2+2=3. Well, you want to do a little trading over here and you will find out that two + two equals as much as they can fool you into believing it is. I was awful glad to hear from you. I have to write to my friend nearly every day. She worries awful about us . . . and it is no use to worry as things will happen just the same no matter how much you worry.
Things happening just the same is all well and good to say when you are living a comfortable suburban lifestyle, but this is quite the statement to read from someone who is writing from the trenches.
This paragraph give you some insight into just what kind of teacher Jessie was. She took quite the forceful approach to classroom management. Tying kids up for whispering? She must have had a rough group!
I guessed who wrote that letter just as soon as I got down to that 2+2. Do you remember the time you tied me all up in strips of cloths for whispering? Do you remember the time that man fell down stairs over across from the school and came down and smashed in the brook? I sure remember that Mrs. Harringan. We used to have some good times at that school. If my memory does not fail me I think I remember some thing you forgot to mention. Aren't you the teacher that laid me across a double desk and gave me "What Paddy gave the Drum"? SHE SPANKED HIM! Those were the happiest days. I must have shame a speaker man at that Peace Conference with the enemy of the cabbage patch. No idea what he's talking about here. Remember the time I put Burdocks in the girls hair and got a chance to do the toe dance all around the room with the aid of the teacher holding on to my ear?
You are right on Uncle Sam would be proud of the boys that he has behind him. Of course I think more of the boys who volunteered but the other boys are a credit to their country. Some men were drafted while others signed up to serve. The best part of it all is the way the boys acted when they got orders to leave for France. We did not have the least idea where we were going. It would have done you good to see how willing and anxious they were to get started. You would think that they would worry about the submarines on the way over but it was just the opposite. Most of them were anxious to sight a sub so we could get a shot at it. The officers had a lot of trouble keeping them down and not to sing their heads off. We had setting up exercises every day and games, looking and a lot of singing. Picture this in your head. Isn't this fantastic? Soldiers, who are really just boys, singing and hoping to get a shot off at the enemy. They sound so young and optimistic. I imagine their harried, serious officers saying stuff like, "You there! Get off that railing! You there! Stop that racket!" It sure what a great sight. If you never have been across it would do you good to take the trip if you were not sea sick. I was sick and did not care for awhile if all the subs the Germans had got after us at once. Poor Walter, I can totally sympathize with him on this!
It was a fair sight along the western shore in the harbor. We left to see the longer ships and at night to see the lights on the buildings. It has been worth a lot to me. I have not suffered as yet. Of course, there have been things I would not have refused like a nice big piece of pie and a glass of good milk. But war is what Sherman said it was and then some. William Tecumseh Sherman, a Union general in the Civil War, said, "War is hell." I can't tell if he's being modest and kindly keeping the gruesome details away from his teacher or if he truly hasn't see battle yet. He sounds optimistic, but to say that war is hell and then some is quite strong. I also love that he worded this so as to refrain from using the word hell.
I remember the last time I saw you. If I am not mistaken I was with my friend. I would not be guilty of not speaking to my old school teacher. I may have changed in looks, but I guess there is just as much deviltry in me as ever. Oh Walter, you sound so much like someone I want to know! I bet there are a lot of my old classmates in service over here. You perhaps read in the papers about the way the Bosch have destroyed the forest trees in the land they have been forced to leave. They sure are a bum lot of soldiers to fight the way they do. Bosch, a slang term for rascal, is what the French called the Germans.
While I am writing this there's a lice little Bosch Machine right over our little shanty. We have a visit every night from the Bosch. They have a habit of coming over about 7:30 to 8:30 and in the morning just before daylight. They dropped a couple bombs over in the field not far away the other night. Boys in our company have done their turn in the trenches and are in for a pass for a few days. We expect to be sent down South near to a Watering Place. I'm not sure why the W and P are capitalized here. He could be referencing a Dickensian term for a bar. I will be glad when we go.
I will have to tell you of a sight that I saw in another town. There as a Bosch up in the air so high he looked like a little toy. One of the French machiners got after him and down he came head first. It was some sight. We went over and saw him after he landed. The machine was like kindling. I won't tell you about the fellows. If you know any fellows that are in the Aviation Service you can give them a lot of credit as they will use a lot of nerve in that job. There are so many things going through my mind after reading this. The naive curiosity. The interest in the crashed plane. The horror at the condition of the pilot's body. Below, I've included a recruitment poster for the Aviation Services. I am impressed by all those serving in the Air Force, but these brave men do deserve a lot of credit for their courage and bravery.
Be sure to write,
Mech. Walter Hill
I have always been interested in World War I. Usually, people rush over the first world war to get to the more popular and more easily understood second. I'm not sure what it is about World War I that grabs my attention and keeps it, but I find the stories captivating. The impact the war had on our culture is still deeply felt 100 years later. So that's where we are now. November 11, 2018, will mark the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the war. On that day there were great celebrations around the world. There was also sorrow in the countries that lost the war and that sorrow would only be compounded by the Treaty of Versailles.
Last year, my family discovered a packet of letters that had been collected and saved by my Great, Great Aunt Jessie. She was a school teacher who wrote to her former students who were serving in the war. I've been working to transpose these letters so they can be easily read and studied. (Follow this link to find out more about Jessie and the read the first letter.)
To commemorate this 100 year anniversary I am currently immersing myself in all things World War I. I am reading about the Red Baron, Lawrence of Arabia, Edith Cavell, Alvin York, and so many others. A few weeks ago I posted about my love of history. When I talk with people who dislike history, I usually perceive that they were taught it from the wrong perspective. I am concerned with the education of anyone that doesn't include a broad study of history because of what that study provides the learner. According to John Green, "The opportunity of studying history is the opportunity to experience empathy." Experiencing empathy for people in the past is what gets my mind racing and my heart pounding. Those people were real. They loved and lost, were hungry and full, they celebrated and mourned. They felt sore and didn't always want to get out of bed in the morning. They worried about their children and loved their friends. Yes, we are all different but we are also all so similar. My favorite kind of history is the history that tells the story of a shared human experience. By immersing myself in the war, I'm hoping to feel what it felt like to be there in the midst of the crowds celebrating the end of the war, anxious about when my loved ones would be returning home.
Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing the text of the letters and poems that were in that packet of Jessie's as well as some posts based on my reading. I am also so excited to be given the opportunity to share information with the students at the school I graduated from and where Logan currently attends. I've got my presentation created and my outfit picked out. (I'm super psyched about the outfit; I'll explain why later.) Now I'm working on getting visuals and preparing a display.
If you have any questions about the Great War, if you're looking for book recommendations, or if you would like to see the letters please let me know.
I love photos like these because you can see so much personality and emotion. The man on the far right of the large group of men looks like quite a character. Contrast him with the purposeful slouch of the man closest to him. I adore the smile of the man on the far right in the group three. My guess is the man in the middle said something funny right before the camera snapped the photo and he lost it. Remove the uniforms and replace them with modern clothing and both of these photos would look totally normal. Men working together. Men posing and laughing together. This is the shared experience of being human.
"We have shared the incommunicable experience of war; we have felt, we still feel, the passion of life to its top. In our youth our hearts were touched with fire."
--Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
This quote is burned into my memory. David McCullough reads it as the opening track on the Ken Burns Civil War soundtrack. (I know, deep nerd stuff here. I have soundtracks to documentaries. Yes. That should be plural.) Although I have heard this a considerable number of times, I never quite understood what Holmes meant until September 11, 20013.
It was my first time teaching middle school since the world had drastically changed in 2001. I was trying to talk to my middle school students about that day, but they didn't share my sorrow and passion as I remembered. They weren't disrespectful, just blank. They told me they didn't remember because most of them hadn't been alive that day or if they were they had been infants. Of course they knew about it in the way that I know about Pearl Harbor, but they didn't know. They didn't feel the loss. The fear. The uncertainty. The mysterious connection with strangers just because we were all experiencing something together. The incommunicable experience of war.
That day was awful. I remember times during the following days in which I experienced crushing sadness. I remember sitting in the break room of Eddie Bauer reading a paper with two horrific stories. The first told of day care workers having to deal with children who were never picked up by their parents that day because their parents were no more. The second told of parking lot owners dealing with cars that no one would be returning to claim. Both of these left me heartbroken, but when I try to communicate with those who were too young to remember, my feelings are . . . incommunicable.
Those of us who remember that day shared some thing horrible, but also uniting. We felt the passion of life and the fire in our hearts. I wish one generation could easily share their experiences with the next, but unfortunately that is just impossible, not for lack of trying, but because that is not how experience works. The sadness of loss, the terror of uncertainty, and the pride we felt for our heroes is simply incommunicable.
Incommunicable . . . If you remember September 11, 2001, and you get the chance to share your story with young people around you, remember that word. Do your best to tell a compelling story, but don't get frustrated when they don't get it. It's not their generation or a character flaw. It's the nature of experience. If you don't remember that day, please respect those who wish to talk about it and commemorate it. You will inevitably experience things that others will not. Remember that try as you might, some experiences are just incommunicable.
What makes someone successful? Isn't that a loaded question!? If we had a set answer to this question we could create a formula that everyone could follow, right? Unfortunately, no. Success is difficult to define, fleeting, and changing with cultural norms.
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of success from a very unpopular perspective. I say unpopular because he debunks the pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps American Dream story we love. We want to believe that anyone can achieve anything because it sounds great, but success is way more than an individual outcome. Also, we often learn about historical figures as they relate to their most famous contributions to history. They often enter and exit the stage of history having only done one thing, but in reality they had exciting and fulfilling lives full of mentors and teachers. Case in point: the Wright brothers. In our history books we learn On December 17, 1903, they successfully flew their airplane for the first time. They were two self-taught engineers who became aviation pioneers and changed the world on that December day. It's almost as though they woke up picked up their plane they tinkered with for a while, flew, and that's the end. But there's so much more. That two-sentence summary leaves out the years of struggle and preparation. It leaves out their incredible family and the time they spent studying. The world may have changed on that December day, but their part of the performance was being performed long before the world ever took notice.
Not all of us are called to be major characters in the great story of history. Some of us are cast in supporting roles that make the grand successes possible. In the case of the Wright brothers, they had several amazing people in supporting roles. First, their parents were incredible. Their dad, a minister in the United Brethren Church, taught them to think, debate, and encouraged them to read on a variety of subjects. Their mother, a wagon maker's daughter taught them mechanical skills and building techniques. Their father inspired their imaginations with a toy propeller and the boys' thirst for knowledge was developed by family discussions in the parlor. Hard work and perseverance were a major component of their success as well. They suffered through brutal nights in the Outer Banks and had to puzzle through complicated calculations. After years of struggle they succeeded, but they didn't stop. After December 17, 1903, they continued to study and improve their designs and defend their patents.
Recognizing supporting roles is important because being a secondary character takes humility and a willingness to remain in the shadows. We can't all be great, but we can all help others in their drive to become great. This doesn't mean we get squashed or deserve to be treated with scorn. Mattering to someone or something is a part of a basic human desire that some of us feel so very strongly it hurts. But not all our roles will be recognized. A doctor that saves someone's life may not be known to history at large, but he mattered deeply to that person. Any maybe that person or a decedent of theirs will go on to greatness. Reaching for greatness should never require you pushing others down. Reaching for greatness should always include pulling up those under you and pushing forward those above you.
Recently, I read a book about the periodic table. (#nerdlife) The author describes Dmitri Mendeleev, the father of the periodic table, as a gifted scientist, and explains that without his mother he would be completely unknown. Mendeleev was the youngest of 17 children and at the age of 15, his mother crossed Siberia on horseback to take him to Moscow to get him into the university there. After traveling around 1,200 miles the university said, "No," to accepting young Dmitri. Undeterred., Mrs. Mendeleev told her son, "Get back on the horse!" and they traveled another 400 miles to St. Petersburg where he was finally accepted. She died shortly after he was accepted into the university. Her journey cost her her life, but without her sacrifice, Dmitri Mendeleev would have died in obscurity in eastern Russia. (This makes me feel pathetic when I think about how much I whine about driving Logan around to his activities.)
I want to pull back here and make it clear that I'm not advocating mothers or fathers kill themselves providing wonderful lives for their children. This is far from what we need. Your children need to see you having a fulfilling spiritual, social, and intellectual life. But having a supporting role means that you are willing to push those around you ahead not to leave yourself trampled, but as a way to contribute to the world at large. Teachers get this. This is what they do. They work crazy hard and maybe someday one of the students they influenced will become president, or cure cancer, or become a teacher and continue the circle.
As I close this post, I don't want anyone to feel discouraged about being in the shadows. If you feel God asking you to step toward leadership or do big things, that is wonderful. But true leaders, as exemplified by Jesus Himself, are also willing to serve and remain humble. Do what is right and don't worry about grabbing for glory. Leave that to God.
The Wright brothers are fascinating to study, but their family is equally intriguing. David McCullough's book on them is good, but if you are looking for a wonderful quick read, I would highly recommend The Wright Words by Kirk Haas. Kirk is my favorite presenter at the Henry Ford. (Yes, I am a big enough nerd to have a favorite presenter at a museum.) In his book he tells stories about the Wright family and how the boys became to be the innovators they are remembered as. I may have cried. It is only about 60 pages so it is a quick read. By purchasing and reading you are also supporting a local author. Go Michigan!
"A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one."