Impact of Memoirs
May 30, 2011
On this Memorial Day when we honor those who have died in battle we can
also honor the memories of those who've fought through the various
challenges people face in life. 30 Moving Memoirs Every Student
Should Read is an article Carol Brown recently
shared with me.
The human condition is chronicled in varied ways in these memoirs. You
can discover unconventional stories of the human spirit,
including that of a journalist who got the assignment to cover the
Vietnam war as a replacement for a reporter who committed suicide, a
tale of losing a husband and mother to cancer only a few weeks apart,
the saga of the only civilian survivor of a bombing in Iraq, the power
of a canteen for some WWII soldiers and several other intimate insights
into the trials and triumphs of life.
Now that summer is here this could be a good time to read some of these
Times They Are Accumulating
May 24, 2011
Today is Bob Dylan's
70th birthday. Wow, the times they are accumulating! His
BOB-ness is probably the most influential songwriter on our time.
Through the years his lyrics have given voice to many causes. He's sung
about injustice, civil rights, war and dignity. He's also been a
troubadour of love and love lost. It's hard to imagine the impact he's
had on uncountable singers and songwriters.
Everybody has their favorite Dylan songs and albums. There are so many.
Blood on the Tracks
still speaks to me on a deep level, as does Blonde on Blonde.
And some of the times I've seen him perform have been amazing. While
some people were criticizing him for his evangelical period I was
captivated by his two-nights of concerts at the Kiva Auditorium in
Albuquerque, New Mexico. From that period I still treasure songs like
"Serve Somebody" and "Every Grain of Sand".
The L.A. Times
& Hiss has a nice post about his
birthday some noteworthy things to consider. Happy Birthday, Bob - may
you stay forever young.
May 23, 2011
One of the most challenging situations in life can be when you
encounter other cultures and don't understand what it taking place.
Embarrassment or confusion can often occur. Sometimes it ends up being
funny, but maybe not at the time.
It is very important for us to learn about diverse cultures. People are
people, but customs and traditions vary, sometimes radically. We don't
all observe the same rules when it comes to things like introductions,
personal space and displaying emotions. Think, too, about the very
different types of food and clothing you encounter with various
An ESL class I've been substitute teaching for had an interesting
assignment today. These English
as a second language learners were introduced to some
different accounts of cross-cultural interaction. We read about the
Cambodian refugee who settled in the United States and her first day of
elementary school was St. Patrick's Day. She had no idea why other
students were pinching her. And she got offended and starting pinching
back. At least until her observant teacher pulled her aside and pinned
a green shamrock on her white blouse and explained the tradition of
wearing green for this holiday.
There was another story about a girl inviting her friend over for a
birthday party. Her friend was from India and became clearly
uncomfortable when the meal was served that included roast beef. But
her family quickly came up with a "plan b" when they discovered that
cows were sacred to many Indians.
My students were asked to write about an experience that included
culture differences and resulted in confusion, embarrassment or even
humor. The class includes students from India, Japan, China and Mexico.
It will be interesting to see what they write about.
This can be a very good excersise for your life story. Do you have any
"other culture" experiences to relate? What is it like to go to
someplace new where you don't know the customs? How do you treat those
with different cultural backgrounds from your own?
A global project from last year (10/10/10) that captured One Day on Earth
helps showcase the amazing diversity of people. A documentary DVD is
about to be released.
May 16, 2011
It's been a couple of weeks now since Osama Bin Laden was shot dead by
U.S. Navy Seals. I have had some time to reflect on it. And mostly I've
found myself thinking about September 11, 2001. That day directly
impacted some innocent and wonderful people. The chief villain,
terrorist Bin Laden, is now dead, but I can't shake the melancholy for
the families and friends of the nearly 3,000 who died that fateful day.
I am a huge baseball fan and you might wonder what brings that sentence
into this post. Well, it just so happens that I was visiting one of my
favorite blogs, Josh Wilker's excellent Cardboard Gods
site. Josh is a writer and baseball fan (and any-day-now-new Dad) who
has captured imaginations and fans with both his site and his book, Cardboard
Gods: An American Tale. He writes about baseball
players from his card collection when he was a kid. There's plenty of
mulling about the game, the players and stats. But there is also pathos
and real insight into the human condition.
His post from May 2
featured the baseball
card of George Brett and Josh musing over the announcement by the
President that Bin Laden had been killed. What Josh did in his post was
special. Instead of rambling on about Bin Laden, terrorists and all
those Phillies fans texting each other during the Sunday ESPN game he
told us about Stephen
NYC firefighter who died on 9-11. Siller
had just gotten off the graveyard shift and was heading home when he
heard about the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center. The
man turned right around and headed back to the station. But the tunnel
closed. No sweat, he merely hoofed the 3+ miles (in his 60 lbs of
gear!) to Ground Zero and began doing what came natural. Helping. And,
yes, he lost his life that day.
Josh Wilker found out that in Siller's life timeline there was an
interesting tidbit (among the many, like being orphaned at 10 and
raised by older siblings, raising a big family himself and becoming a
firefighter). This particular item noted how Stephen made a roadtrip to
Kansas City to see
George Brett play his final game. Then he turned right around and drove
back right after the game. Do the math - that's a pretty intense
roadtrip from New York. That's dedication. That's discipline. That's
following your bliss.
Every year there is a 5k run to honor Siller and raise money for a
worthwhile cause. The Tunnel to Towers run follows
Stephen's footsteps that day and honors his memory. Wilker ran it in
2002 and it was clearly an emotional experience. How could it not be?
Sometimes we need to be reminded about the real heroes among
us. I certainly count Stephen
Siller among them. Oddly enough, it came via a blog posting about an historic event and a grand
May 13, 2011
Today is Friday the 13th
and even though most of us consider superstition to be silly there is
still a significant number of people who believe something bad
might...could...will happen to them when the calendar coincides a
Friday with the 13th of a month. An article on Paranormalknowledge.com goes into
some of the history of Friday the 13th (Norse mythology and a goddess
named Frigga are contributors to the lore) and relates how it can even
impact business to the loss of nearly a billion dollars on the days it
occurs because so many people stay home. Well, if there is any truth to
that I'm glad the only occurence in 2011 is today!
is the term given to those who have an irrational fear of something bad
happening to them on Friday the 13th (more info). That's quite a word -
sure I can even pronounce it.
So do you have any superstitions? Are there any relatives who have
interesting superstitious experiences to relate? This could be an
interesting thing to write about and add to your family history or life
May 9, 2011
A few days ago, thanks to the tip of fellow Association
of Personal Historians member Marcy Davis, I
discovered the amazing story of Rose
Gilbert. In this article on the Huffington Post you will
discover how she has been teaching about 60 years and at the
age of 92 has no intention of retiring!
Rose Gilbert (no relation) is my new hero! I've just completed a two
year process to become a certified teacher in New Mexico and I'm
embarking on this new career at the age of 55. I still plan to continue
life story preservation and in many ways teaching young people will go
hand-in-hand with that. Sometimes I wonder if I'll be able to do much
by becoming a teacher at this at this time in my life. Then I think of
Rose Gilbert. I want you all to discover the great
passion and spunk that "Mama G" (as her students call her) displays
She clearly believes in hard work, yet having fun. If you watch the
video with the article you see her in action. She's engaging her High
School students and bringing out their best. She values each of them.
So many lives have been touched by her and she does something that
really matters. She has outlived her husband, but he left his wealth to
her and she has used it to help with college scholarships to over 100
students at her alma mater, UCLA.
The world is full of heroes - real heroes who seize each day and live
it with gusto and bring the rest of us along for the ride. You, go Mama
May 8, 2011
The influence of a mother can be very profound. An NPR / StoryCorps story
by William Anthony Cobb (see here)
in which he credits his mother, Mary Cobb, with teaching him the
importance of respecting all people and being able to talk to anyone,
resonated with me. My mom was also big on respect - not just for her,
but for myself and certainly for other people. Cobb and I also share in
common the loss of our mothers from the same disease.
It was five years ago that my mother was battling pancreatic cancer.
That is a particularly agressive form of cancer and there often is no
Mom faced it bravely and showed great dignity and acceptance in her
final months. She passed in June of 2006 so the Mother's Day the month
before was both special and memorable. She and Dad were in Kansas City
so it was a long drive from New Mexico. But it was worth every moment
as I had an opportunity to visit her that weekend before her disease
had advanced too far. It was a real gift to spend time with her and I
will always cherish the memories.
Mothers have the hardest job and so many moms are magnificent in the
way they go about their lives. They work hard to help us
kids through the ups and downs of life, yet they rarely
get the recognition or appreciation they deserve.
On this Mother's Day I'm remembering my mom, but also trying to show
appreciation more to my wife (mother of our two wonderful children), my
mother-in-law, my daughter (who made us proud grandparents last year),
my sister who has raised two children, and to the many other women who
give of themselves unselfishly to "mother" others, whether or not those
they help are their own children.
Mother's Place Is in the Heart
May 5, 2011
Sunday (May 8) and I've been thinking about how we view
motherhood. It is perhaps the highest calling; certainly it is the
greatest act of nurturing. A mother's place is not so much "in the
home" as the cliche states, as it is in the heart. The
heartbeat of each
family often comes from our moms.
I realize not all people have a good experience
with either their mother or being one. It varies depending on so many
circumstances and variables - from income level to broken homes,
personalities to mental health, from passionate views to compassionate
care. But when we recognize what an enormous task it is to be a mom,
sacrifice it takes and how each mother approaches it we are reminded
there is no one easy definition for every mother.
My mother was a woman of quiet strength. She was content to be
supportive and thoughtful. She was an avid reader and someone who
enjoyed quiet mornings. Still, I remember her and my dad bickering like
married couples do (sometimes I recognize I am guilty of the same with
my wife!). And she could call me or my siblings on the carpet and
address our behaviour firmly when we were out of line.
Seeing a mother with their child, especially in moments like birth,
first steps, the start of school or on their wedding day, helps us
recognize what pride and love truly are. You can't always put it in
words, but you can see it in their faces. I got thinking about this
today while reading David Ulin's (Los Angeles Times reporter) review
of the new biography of
Barack Obama's mother. "A Singular
Woman: The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mother" by Janny
Scott is just out from Riverhead. Ulin points out that the biographer
describes Obama's mother, Stanley Ann Durham, as "tough and
unconventional, aloof and occasionally distant, not unlike her son."
Of course, it is necessary to frame her story with the fact that her
son became President. But all mothers have their lives as well
as living for
their children. Why not give some thought to your mom's life story.
Look at who you are and what part your mother played in that. Then look
carefully at all she's been through. Consider coversations that draw
out her story and, in turn, has her revealing something about her
upbringing and own mother.
Mothers are one of our greatest treasures. Remember and honor them.
Years After 9/11 - Bin Laden Dead
May 1, 2011
The news broke less than an hour ago that the world's most sought
after terrorist, Osama Bin Laden, has been killed. This has
been a top objective of the United States government ever since the
terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It's been ten years of a
deadly game of "hide and seek" to capture the mastermind of numerous
terrorist attacks, not just the 9/11 tragedies that resulted in over
3,000 deaths in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington,
D.C. and aboard Flight 93 that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
This is an historic moment. As you heard the news you processed where
you were at and you undoubtedly feel the impact of our globalized
Killing in the name of any extreme cause should never be celebrated. I
still mourn for the families of the victims of 9/11. But I also worry
about the fervor and possible flames of hatred that can be fanned by
the "eye for an eye" philosophy. The only way to overcome hate and
violence is by the higher power of love and reconciliation. This
doesn't preclude justice. And I know my comments might get taken out of
context. But I yearn for a world of peace and brotherhood. The
extremists have no right to inflict their reign of terror. But we also
must beware of drinking from the intoxicating bottle of vengeance.
What can we do as ordinary citizens. We can cultivate peace by rising
above hatred and fear. We need to show the world that most people want
the same things - love, respect and acceptance. How we live our lives
in this endeavor is the legacy we leave to our descendents.