Been working on creating a new website which I had hoped would be up and running by now. In a desperate (and ridiculous) attempt to keep a New Year's resolution from a few years ago, I am posting this picture and Autumn Haiku which links to last month's reflection and reveals my losing battle with the onrush of time.
swoops to Almost October—
Where'd September go?!?!?!
The poem below was inspired by a recent monologue of Jimmy Kimmel as well as my own backyard observations. I'm not sure how often comedians and poets contemplate the same phenomenon, but certainly the arrival of August elicited the same response from most everyone I know (and many of whom I don't).
This year's vacation, sweet as it always is, was made sweeter by an email from my editor at Scholastic who notified me that my newest manuscript had been accepted for publication in the spring of next year. It takes me a long time to research and write a book; my stories go through numerous revisions with many of my agonized words landing on the cutting room floor. Here's an outtake from my upcoming novel which I will write more about as it nears publication...
The saga taking place on our borders is a sad reminder that time moves in slow concentric circles and that as a people, we often fall far short of our lofty American ideals.
Decades ago, afraid that refugees were a threat to national security, Franklin D. Roosevelt turned away hundreds of desperate individuals escaping Nazi persecution. Finally, bowing to increasing pressure to do something, Roosevelt capitulated and 1944, 1000 mostly Jewish refugees were invited to wait out the war at an abandoned army base in Oswego, New York. Considered guestsof the President, these displaced individuals had no legal standing and were expected to return to their homeland after the war. Until that time they were kept behind a chain link fence — adding humiliation to the unspeakable traumas they had already suffered.
For generations, thousands of accompanied— and unaccompanied — children arrived in Ellis Island with the blessings of parents who hoped that their children could forge a better life than they themselves could offer. My own grandfather was seven years old and traveling with a local family when he left Italy to meet an older sister living in New York. Danger often pushes us to make unthinkable decisions. Poverty does the same thing.
I doubt there are any readers who would condone Roosevelt’s initial choice to turn away so many desperate people seeking shelter, many of whom later perished in concentration camps. And whether or not they were accompanied by their parents, how many of us are not grateful for the courage of immigrant ancestors who gave us our own American roots?
Of course there is a great difference between legal and illegal entry, but desperation often forces difficult, life and death decisions. As in every choice set before us, kindness and compassion should always trump rigid man-made rules.
History is a perceptive and truth-bound teacher but her lectures drone on and on to inattentive, apathetic learners. At best, we watch out the window, selfishly disengaged and absorbed in the minutia of our own lives. At worst, we are callous egotists, indifferent to the needs and suffering of others, wielding power instead of pity, stubborn righteousness in lieu of compassion.
The more I read and research, the more I realize that History is not simply a indifferent record of the past. To those who are listening, History issues a vital warning about the present. As human beings we are capable of great kindness and compassion, but we are also capable of great cruelty, self-centeredness, and indifference. Be vigilant, History seems to implore. Be brave. Do what is right before what is wrong destroys the good you have achieved.
As we sit daydreaming, History is taking notes. Years from now the conscientious student will wonder how we let it happen. With so many high ideals, how did we lose our way?
Recently the New York Times began a series of obituaries written for noteworthy citizens who had been overlooked at the time of their actual death. As the Times states, Since 1851, obits in the New York Times have been dominated by white men. Now we are adding stories of other remarkable people. Always alert for tales of the forgotten, especially those that reflect a refusal to be defined by any force that seeks to denigrate or stifle, I was delighted to read these miniature biographies. These were truly exceptional women, women who had contributed to both science and the arts, true role models, inspiration for a new generation. I decided to dig deeper and immediately set to work— new notebook, sharpened pencil, and special library requests for books that were long out of print or otherwise inaccessible. Boundless enthusiasm is always the hallmark of early research when voices from the past first invite me into their lives.Unthinkable! I eagerly scribbled in the margins of my new notebook, a perfect title and first line for a possible picture book. Halfway down page 108 of a book borrowed from a nearby college, I put down my pencil. In a litany of accomplishments I stumbled on a line that derailed me. My subject was a racist. How could such an gifted and enlightened individual harbor such ugly, racist thoughts? Because my blog is a place for personal reflection and not to provide an exposé of historical figures, I won't be naming my subject. Let readers celebrate her accomplishments and let her ugly private thoughts remain buried in an out-of-print, not easily accessible narrative. For myself, however, I cannot unknow what I know. Some may argue that my subject was a product of her time; that we cannot judge people from the past by contemporary standards; that it is not our place to scratch too deeply into another’s person's private beliefs or politics. But if we are all and always the product of a given time, how does anything ever change? Civilization only moves forward when individuals are sensitive to eternal truths despite their society's restrictions. Isn't that what the Times was celebrating? Isn't that what they were rectifying by these long overdue obituaries? If my subject could see that a woman was equal to a man despite the limits of her generation, why could she not also see that the color of one’s skin does not determine a person’s worth or intellect? Why did she not also realize that poverty often stems from limitations imposed by the ones with the most power— the same limitations that decreed a woman less capable than a man? We rightfully admire forward-thinking people who step outside society’s unjust boundaries. Remarkable people should be remembered and celebrated. But if, in looking back we stumble upon something wrong or offensive, it seems that we should pause and note that too— not to chastise or vilify, or muddy the waters, but to hold racism’s ugliness to the light, to prevent it’s continued proliferation, and remind ourselves that we can be greater than our role models.
We very recently discovered that Smudges our well-loved but ill-behaved dog had grown deaf. Unrolling a strip of aluminum foil no longer brings him to the kitchen from his sunny snooze spot upstairs wildly barking and chasing his tail in chastisement. The doorbell barely registers a peep unless he is close enough to see the UPS man approaching the door. Then as expected, he valiantly protects me with loud if not ferocious threats aimed at the shadow outside.
Smudges is a rescue dog, adopted more than ten years ago when I realized that with my daughter in high school, the deadline was fast approaching to keep that promise to get a dog someday. Seems that someday had popped off the timeline and turned into tomorrow with the blink of an eye.
The next adoption day at the pet store brought us to a crowd of puppies and people. My daughter picked out Smudges immediately and immediately we were advised to put him back. That one is just trouble. Even placed him on a farm hoping the other dogs would teach him his place, but he just never learned. The woman in the blue shirt looked at my daughter and son, then at me. If you are looking for a dog to play in the park during the day and rest at your feet at night, this isn’t the one.
I was looking for a dog to play with my kids and rest at my feet while I wrote, but my daughter had already made up her mind. This was a dog who was simply misunderstood, maybe as she sometimes felt. She put the dog back in the box, but only to convince my husband and me that this was the one.
After the requisite ultimatums and promises, we finally agreed that this soft, freckled, bright-eyed bundle was the destined family pet.
In the meantime, someone had snatched Smudges and was arrogantly walking around with him cradled in her arms. We followed the woman around the store for awhile, and I finally asked her if she planned on keeping the dog she held. I think so, she said smugly.
That was it. My daughter was done. No other dog would suffice. We left the store and drove around as if we had lost a beloved family member.
Let’s just go back inside and see if he really is gone, I said. Maybe she changed her mind.
The haughty woman had changed her mind (probably on the advice of the woman in the blue shirt) and my family happily left the pet store with our incorrigible puppy, one who despite numerous training sessions still forces us to chase him around the neighborhood with treats and threats if someone leaves the door open, who still barks at beams of light and dog treats that do not toss themselves when he wants to play.
Smudges plays less frequently now; his bright eyes have grown filmy and he’s sprouted numerous warts, but no dog is more loved, and there is surprisingly little joy in unrolling aluminum foil in silence. Onedays and somedays keeping popping off that timeline and turning into tomorrow.
You don’t know me but I know you. I have watched your valiant young faces and listened to your powerful voices. My heart broke with you on Valentines Day and again six days later when the Florida house of representatives voted down a motion to revive the bill to ban assault rifles. Yesterday when the CEO of Dicks announced that the Sporting Goods Store would no longer sell assault style weapons, I knew that change was possible and that your voices are spreading the seeds of that change.
We have already asked so much of you — so much more than any child or young adult should be forced to give— but I beg you to continue the fight. Don’t be discouraged by those who chide you for your naiveté or seek to discredit you with false theories about the root cause of your intentions.
You are not alone!
So, so many adults stand with you. We promise to continue the fight with the strongest weapon we have— the ballot box. We are grateful for your courage and hopeful that with your fresh voices we will be able to accomplish the sane solutions to gun violence which have eluded us.
Like you, I cannot fathom any reluctance to reasonable restraints which would prevent our schools and playgrounds from becoming killing fields. Like you, I do not understand that there are those adults who do not recognize that the life of one human being is infinitely more important than the right to own assault weapons. Why does anyone need an assault weapon? Its very name suggests attack and not defense.
I have spent my professional career caring for children, first as a teacher and now as a writer. Each of my books emphasize my sincere belief that every one of us, no matter our gender or race, is more alike than different and that even the smallest act of kindness will make the world a better place. Most of my books are historical fiction. There is no small amount of dark times in history for me to explore, but it is in the darkest times that heroes emerge.
You are my heroes and I beg you to continue to find encouragement and strength in each other and the many adults who love and support you.