Here in the States, November 11 is Veterans Day. Originally it was established as Armistice Day, the day Germany formally surrendered at the end of WW I: November 11, 1918. In 1954, the name was changed to Veterans Day, to honor U.S. veterans and victims of all wars.
In 2015 my husband and I took a long awaited trip to France. One of the places we visited was the American Cemetery in Normandy. The cemetery covers 172.5 acres and contains the remains of 9,388 American soldiers. There are graves of Army Air Corps crews shot down over France as early as 1942, and graves of 4 American women. But most of the graves are of those soldiers who died during the Invasion of Normandy.
It is a sobering place, as you look out over row upon row upon row of crosses and stars of David. My husband said, “There is such sadness here.” My thought was of all those men, overwhelmingly young, who would never have a chance to have a career, or fall in love, or get married, or live to see their children grow up. They would never see their lives open up before them.
I often cry these days. Not just because my husband died a year ago, although that’s the occasion for tears on some days. But I more often cry out of despair and fear, and a feeling that my life’s work has been in vain. I spent my career as a teacher of 4th and 5th graders. Two thirds of my teaching years were in underserved neighborhoods where I tried with everything I had to give the necessary skills to my students so that they would be able to break out of a cycle of poverty. And for all my students over the years, whether middle class or below the poverty line, I tried to instill in them a love of learning, and a curiosity about the world. Each year I worked to create a cooperative classroom where students could learn from their mistakes, take risks, and help each other succeed.
These days I sometimes wonder if my 20+ years of teaching made any difference at all. I do know that I made a difference in my individual student’s lives, but I find myself wondering if that made any difference in the wider world. Across the globe I’m seeing genocide, bigotry, hate infused rhetoric, riots and protests caused by the desperation of ordinary people who can’t make ends meet. I see the very rich becoming the super wealthy while ordinary people can end up on the streets because of one medical bill too many, or an expensive car repair that is necessary in order to get them to their underpaid job. I see the 1% of the world’s wealthiest people buy influence and power that subverts democracies. I see desperate immigrants arrive on the shores of more stable countries because of climate change and violence in their land of birth. And I see the more stable countries genuinely unable to take in an infinite number of refugees. I also see some leaders, especially in my home country, the United States, flat out deny science and refuse to work toward limiting the carnage that will be unleashed by a warming planet if we do nothing.
I am the first to admit that I am more fortunate than most. My husband and I had access to good educations, and although we each had times of unemployment while rearing our children, we were never both without a job at the same time. We had access to good and affordable medical care when our younger child faced a host of serious medical problems shortly after birth. And for most of our working years we each worked in jobs that had a decent salary and excellent benefits. Money was often tight. Sometimes very tight, and we did without a lot of things. But we knew that we could keep a roof over our head, put food on the table, and send our children to school. That counts as well off in most of the world.
I took that knowledge, that we were privileged compared to most of the world, and dedicated my life to working for justice, trying to level the playing field through education, and believing that while no system of government is perfect, democratic and parliamentary systems of governments are the best options we’ve got. And I now see them crumbling into authoritarian and autocratic systems that seem to disproportionally benefit the most well off of citizens. It’s not much of a surprise, then, that societies world wide are devolving into a us vs them mentality with each side of the spectrum not trusting the other.
I have some theories as to how this has come about, but unfortunately I don’t have any nuts and bolts ideas as to how to fix it. Because it’s not just the United States, or France, or Venezuela, or Hong Kong that’s falling apart because of inequitable resources and whole segments of the population that have been left out of the power loop. It seems to be global. I keep trying to work on equity, kindness, seeing each person for who they are and trying to have honest conversations about where we disagree. I work every day at showing each person that no matter where they are on the income scale, or what the color of their skin is, or whether they have made serious mistakes in their lives, or whether they are immigrants or native born, they matter. I can do this on an individual basis, person by person. But I feel overwhelmed. And I feel like it’s not enough.
A flower cries, the stones cry out, and I weep. Who will remember the forgotten of the world?
I am finding myself somewhat nostalgic and sad lately. The daylight is beginning to fade sooner and sooner, and while fall is usually my favorite season, September 2 marked the first year anniversary of my husband’s death. So I have been looking through family pictures of late, and went searching for these, as they are among my favorites of the past year – the first year without my husband of 44 years. While the post itself is far longer than six words, the title is exactly six, so I hope I can still use the Six Word Saturday hashtag.
I have written before about the fact that my good friends, Martha and Arthur, and I share our two dogs. Theirs is Teddy the Labradoodle and mine is Zoë the Miniature Schnauzer. When my husband and I returned to Northern California three and a half years ago and moved into our retirement community (St. Paul’s Towers), the grandkids were just 1 and 3½. Teddy was bigger than the 1 year old, obviously, but he was also awfully big for the 3½ year old. About a year ago, when they were 3 and almost 6, the two of them decided that it was time for them to start walking the dogs instead of just accompanying me when I walked them. So they became the walkers, and I became the accompanying and supervising person. The 3 year old was still rather scared of Teddy, but was comfortable walking Zoë. The almost 6 year was adamant that he wanted to walk Teddy by himself, without me holding on to the leash. Here is the result: he walking confidently on ahead with Teddy last February, when he was fully 6+ a few months. My granddaughter, Zoë, and I are lagging behind, in a perfect position to capture a photo.
Walking the Dog at Twilight
Posted for Six Word Saturday. Well, at least there’s exactly six words in the title. 😉
Look closely at about 7 o’clock on the flower and you will see a visitor who showed up half way through the clicks of my phone camera.
I was especially glad to see him given that I had just read that this past winter’s honeybee deaths were the highest in the 13 years of research into bee mortality. A parasitic mite seems to be infesting commercial bee colonies in the United States. The problem isn’t just losing the bees themselves. It’s that the agricultural industry relies on commercially raised honeybees to pollinate $15 billion of the U.S. food crops.* I don’t know if this little guy came from a commercial hive, or a local small one. But I was really happy that he showed up!
It was left at the curb for either someone else to take and use, or for the trash collectors to pick up.
I love living in a city. I love access to museums, opera, symphony orchestras, theater and restaurants. And it literally makes me happy to walk down the street and see and hear so many people of different nationalities, languages and ethnicities. For me that makes life richer. I also love seeing what people discard. Most of the time it’s things like broken desks, or the packaging of an overly large item. But every once-in-awhile I see an item that seems to call out, “Wait! Stop and look. I have a story to tell!” And then I have the opportunity to imagine it’s history, and try to convey it’s uniqueness with my camera.
I came upon this chair while the grandchildren and I were walking the dogs. And I wondered. Had this chair been placed at a table where someone both ate and struggled to pay bills? Was it part of a set but finally got too rickety to hold its owner’s weight? Did someone place it at a desk where they worked on writing their first novel, or tried to find a job? Did they work from home? And what happened to make them abandon it? The considerate owner had placed its back legs in the uneven roots of the tree, trying to make the chair as out of people’s way as possible. That’s what gave it that delightfully off kilter angle that was both arresting and sad. It probably wouldn’t have been half as interesting to me if it had simply been placed straight up on the curb. Or even had it been laid on it’s side. I would have thought of it as just a used chair. But this askew chair up against the richly textured bark of the tree caught my eye and seemed to say, “I once was new and cared for! What have I done, other than become old? I am still able to hold my back up straight and proud. Please stay awhile, and hear my story.”