In 2015, Blue Heron Book Works published a collections of blog posts, journal entries, and other writing forms from writers across the nation. Bathseba Monk, the intrepid and visionary editor of Blue Heron Book Works, and her editor Mary Lawlor, put together a book of American voices as varied as the landscape between our coastlines.
Songs of Ourselves is a real trip into and across Americana. If you haven’t read it, I compare it to about two dozen Blue Highways wrapped into one volume.
Listen to Tomas Benitez: Quietude in the Gully. No moaning animals or ruckus. It’s as if the Pomona Freeway Ocean knows and slows to a steady heartbeat rhythm. The waves rumble with a distant peace. La Luna is framed by the dark outline of the palm fronds on the left, the Yucca tree on the right seems to be reaching up like a hand holding her aloft. She is so beautiful tonight; it is all about her I suspect. Maybe the animals are huddled in their shadowed hollows also watching her. Not even Jinx is dancing in her moonlight. We’re in church. ~ pages 15-16.
Well worth the read. A treasure of American voices across our land. Buy it here.
Given the previous post about Marty Ball, international wheelchair champion and disability advocate, I wanted to share the link to the New York Times Obituary, including taped clips of Dr. Hawking on various subjects.
Hawking’s life is an illustration of how Albert Schweitzer regarded his own remarkable life:
My life is my argument.
Stephen Hawking broke all misconceptions about the meaning of disabled.
The Paralympics opened today. It reminded me of a time long ago when I met Marty Ball, one of America’s first paralympic stars. I was working at Helen Hayes Hospital, and helped the staff start the 10K road race, The Helen Hayes Classic Race, to which Helen came to open the first official competition. Marty was a nationally recognized wheelchair champion athlete and agreed to open the race and help recruit wheelchair athletes for the inaugural race.
Though I had a degree in Special Education, I was amazed when Marty and his beautiful girl friend, also a wheelchair racer, arrived at the hospital, flung open the doors to his van, and preceded to unload his wheelchair. He plopped into it, and rolled over to a group of us so called “able-bodied” people and shook hands, introducing his partner. I distinctly remember Marty’s athletic body and robust presence, and thinking: he is far more able-bodied than the rest of us.
At that time, Marty Ball was using his notoriety as an athlete to champion races in which both able-bodied and people with disabilities raced together. And, in 1983, he was the first wheelchair athlete to complete the NY Marathon. Since then, the paralympics as grown to international competitive fame.
I was delighted today on writing this column to learn that Marty has continued to make a positive difference in the lives of so-call disabled athletes lives by innovating wheelchair technology, He has worked with designers of wheelchairs for athletes, and everyone in need of individualized mobile technology to get around and lives a full life. Here is Marty in 2013 speaking about the development of the wheelchair for athletes:
Marty contracted polio as a young boy before the Salk vaccine was invented. Helen Hayes Hospital was originally established to treat people recovering from polio. Today, Helen Hayes Hospital is one of the nation’s top rehabilitation centers for people with injuries or disabling conditions to maximize their health and live to the fullest. It was such an honor to work there in the Bone Research Center where at that time some of world’s best surgeons were improving the gait of children with cerebral palsy and other similar musculoskeletal disorders.
I look at Marty today, review his life’s path, and once again, I am reminded that the adjectives we may use to describe each other mean nothing. It is how we take our lives, our ship, out onto the ocean of human experience and sail away to our destinies. Let’s all enjoy the Paralympics!
Postnote: One of my fondest memories from the inaugural Helen Hayes Classic Road Race was the image of my son, Tommy, at age 10, crossing the finish line! You could already see the making of a great athlete in him. It was a rainy day, my husband Tom held an umbrella over Marty, and all the runners and wheelers started together and ran the race together. It was a wet day, we all looked like drowned cats, but the spirit soared, and today the race is still going!
The year the youth novel Wonder was published, I lost my father and was still grieving the loss of my sister. At the time I worked full-time at the University of West Florida, and somehow I missed the wonderment of Wonder.
I am about through and savoring its completion. The narrative, characters, and the real life circumstances of each middle-schooler, especially August, are true to life. The story has the effect of healing my own wounds from that period of youth that is so very difficult. It is the time when we truly differentiate from our childhood identities, our birth family, and move into the harsh realities of life.
R.J. Palacio, the author, put this book “out there” and it has since been translated into many languages, and used in classrooms, and other educational venues. Palacio created one book with a narrative for our culture, and cultures worldwide about being “different”.
Auggie Pullman’s disfiguring genetic disorder causes conflicting feelings. Palacio provides personal narratives of Auggie’s sister and his classmates to sensitively show us how we deal with difference depending on our family, experiences, and personalities. Reactions to Auggie when he enters middle school range from fear to revulsion. When we learn more about each character, readers explore similar feelings in themselves.
Palacio takes adult readers on a poignant journey to our preadolescent selves when we asked, Who am I? We present ourselves to the world with our face and expression. We experience Auggie and his peers grow and change as they deal with Auggie’s condition and his bright, true persona which they discover over time.
Auggie’s facial deformities are extreme. Yet, he is a pretty normal tween and a cool guy once you get to know him. His experiences are tenderly created by a talented writer who was raising middle schoolers at home. She had once encountered a small girl with a similar genetic disorder at an ice cream shop. That encounter led to the creation of Auggie Pullman and her first ever novel.
At a time in world history when fear of the other is strong, this book provides a way to understand how we react to difference but how our differences help us grow and make the world a more wonderful place.
Dear Senator (Rand Paul, Mitch McConnell) and Rep. Brent Guthrie
This is not a letter of request but an ultimatum as a citizen in your District. Please vote to restrict the sale of assault rifles to youth age 21 and younger, and for regulations that tighten the screening necessary to buy an “assault” rifle.
Yes, there are mental health issues, yes, we can make schools safer, but that is not at the basis of the current safety issue: kids with guns killing other kids. Change the gun ownership regulations, Sir.
I want to hear from you on how you will act to restrict gun ownership by minors (21 and younger) and your plans to write or support such legislation. This has the highest priority in my own mind. We just lost 2 youths in Kentucky, with another 16 wounded, and thousands of students, parents, families and the public traumatized by mass shootings in their community. Now, its happened again.
Tomorrow I’ll be making an appointment to meet with you in your Bowling Green office at your earliest convenience.
Last month I was privileged to be a juror for local and regional youth writers during the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. We have great budding talent as well as youth whose voice is already powerful with portent of great works to come. Poetry filled the majority of entries, short stories and essays less so yet entries were stellar. Themes varied from an essay about surviving the digital tsunami to family and personal narratives. As jurors, we listened for a distinct voice, for use of language, and other indicators of a writer’s talent and potential. See the accompanying press release about Bowling Green SKyPAC awards ceremony and reception. I hope many of our community members, teachers, and leaders can join us March 3rd at SKyPAC to celebrate our youth and the cultivation of the imagination.
Wendell Berry is by far one of my favorite writers . . .
In his 2005 book of poems, Given, this one is printed on the back of the volume:
“The yellow-throated warbler, the highest remotest voice of this place, sings in the tops of the tallest sycamores, but one day he came twice to the railing on my porch where I sat at work above the river. He was too close to see with binoculars. Only the naked eye could take him in, a bird more beautiful than every picture of himself, more beautiful than himself killed and preserved by the most skilled taxidermist, more beautiful than any human mind, so small and inexact, could hope ever to remember. My mind became beautiful by the sight of him. He had the beauty only of himself alive in the only moment of his life. He had upon him like a light the whole beauty of the living world that never dies.” ~ Wendell Berry
This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom, We recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.
After I moved from Tucson, Arizona, Senator Giffords and her legislative aides and staffers were gunned down by a lone shooter (2011). I knew them all. Gabby Giffords struggled on with major brain injury. We have watched as she has not only recovered best she can, but how she and her husband Mark Kelly have continued to lead the nation in the discussion about our imperfect gun laws and the promotion of a gun culture.
Now Kentucky. The folks in Benton, KY are just beginning the long road to recovery and five children are struggling to keep life and limb at Vanderbilt Hospital. Two suffered brain injury and one may lose his arm – a youth with special needs. And the confused kid who perpetrated the crime: what a mess his life is now. I can’t help but think they are all caught, we are all caught up, in a vortex.
But what is even more horrific, and longer lasting, will be the thousands of individuals in the community, region and even the nation who are traumatized by such an event. It does not leave the community; it becomes a part of its memory. It becomes a part of the national memory, all the devastating loss of innocent lives, over and over and over again. Meanwhile we dither in our moral fortitude.
We’ve arrived at a historical moment when all of us know someone affected by these brutal acts of violence, acts perpetrated by people with problems, with grudges, or tangled mental states that lead them to strike out. Most of the time they are victims too – abused, bullied, abandoned or feeling without any personal agency in their social or familial families. Somehow they find that gun or guns to carry out their plan. It’s just not hard to get a gun. Kids can kill kids.
Apparently, this is not enough to convince the National Rifle Association and all who benefit from the vast industry of gun sales, and who confuse the Bill of Rights with the basic moral imperative to do no evil, to do no harm. It is a fact that until recent history, promotion of widespread ownership of guns was uncommon.
Let’s also examine the other entrenched social and political conditions that can be drivers of violence: poverty, alienation, social repression, and so on. Kentucky has high poverty rates and over the top opioid addiction. We can talk all day about how our prayers go out to these youth but what are we really doing to help them, to provide a secure society for all kids to thrive? America needs a rigorous self-inventory. That includes all of us. If we espouse a religious affiliation might we not examine how we apply it in all aspects of our lives?
I recall Martin Luther King, Jr. when asked why he supported the end of United States participation in the Vietnam War. Why didn’t he stick to just civil rights? To paraphrase, he simply pointed out the he could not divide his moral code by the issue at hand. It is a code that demands the same rigor of understanding and right action in any area of our personal and civic lives.
Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) changes the brain unless it is arrested. Let’s work with the people of Benton, KY to help them heal, to provide everything they need, including our sincere prayers. But let us not stop there. We must stop easy access to guns, and implicit or explicit support for an industry that results in a gun culture, in the U.S. once and for all. LET’S NOT MOVE ON.
Since I wrote my last post in which I expressed grave concern for the moral compass of our current administration, and indeed, our American culture, I returned to my own personal champion of an ethical basis for living: Dr. Albert Schweitzer.
Since age 12 when I discovered a short biography of Schweitzer (All Men Are My Brothersby Charlie May Simon, 1956), I’ve read and reread many Schweitzer writings about Reverence for Life, which the famous doctor, religious scholar and philosopher identified as the ethical basis for living.
Only by serving every kind of life do I enter into the service of that Creative Will whence all life emanates. ~ Albert Schweitzer, in “The Ethics for Reverence for Life” (1936)
For Schweitzer, this manifests through the striving of individuals and society to achieve the perfection of the world and humankind through the ethic of reverence for all life.
He was pragmatic about it: he wrote that thinking or writing about it doesn’t count: you have to act on it. He did so by stopping mid-career to attend medical school, and then moved to a remote jungle in Africa to serve people suffering from leprosy.
In my research I came upon the Schweitzer Fellowshipwhich is providing the means for young leaders to emulate Schweitzer and take up the torch of that grand purpose. It is gratifying to learn how this work is unfolding around the world but how there are now 14 chapters across the U.S. where Fellows seek to empower people to create health and wellness in their family and community
Albert Schweitzer on Prime Video Amazon an excellent new film (2009) about the man and his work; his human flaws and his genius; Barbara Hersey portrays Mrs. Schweitzer showing a much greater role in her husband’s success than in previous films.