You know ‘thoughts and prayers’ during a crisis aren’t enough. Here’s how to really be helpful


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My Favourite Quotes & Phrases- Astrophysics For People In A Hurry

Source: My Favourite Quotes & Phrases- Astrophysics For People In A Hurry

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Stepping out of the margins and taking my place (again)

A distillation of various conversations about recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 11-12, 2017:

What happened in Charlottesville isn’t about free speech, history or any number of apologetics. People may see my opinions simply as me spouting liberalism. It isn’t. Unfortunately, there are people who want me to just be quiet. Some folks think saying anything just makes things worse. As one friend commented, (People) “just get riled up.” Obviously.    

On an academic level only, I understand using statutes and flags as educational tools to teach about the past. I even grant some leeway with the argument that The Southern Cross is a symbol of the CSA and the American south and it may stand for a raucous rebellious spirit. This confederate battle flag may stand for southern hospitality and a sense of gentility and ‘propriety. ’ There is a sense of that in the urgency behind those who have promoted the idea of ‘don’t talk about uncomfortable topics and stop making a fuss’; that politeness means refraining from raising the level of discomfort topics like racism engenders. Trouble is, avoiding difficultly , sweeping things under the rug, eventually creates quite a lump underneath the surface. As Elie Wiesel said, “ We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Under the confederacy, my value, my opinion, even my physical self would likely have been kept out of ‘polite society’ quietly stashed away. Sh… no one need to know about our unfortunate cripple. 

I know, in my head, that most people, friends and relatives alike, who prefer that I not comment are not aiming their remarks because I have Cerebral Palsy – at least I hope not. Some do so because they’d rather not engage on the topic. Others urge me to be quiet because we disagree. What people may be misconstruing- I am trying to give those who deserve it the benefit of doubt- is I am not whining. I am speaking up. I’m campaigning. I want my voice – my story – to be heard. I’m not naive. I know that the people who need to hear my message most will ignore it or brand me a victim of fake news propaganda . Some will brand me as liberal hypocrite and intolerant. So be it.

Make no mistake, the men (women) who carried tiki torches and chanted racist Nazi ideas did not have me or my rights in mind. No, they convey the message that their version of history is correct and given time and might their ideology will prevail. Nazism and confederate ideas were intentionally blended. The march was NOT about preserving history.

When people parade and demand restoring the south and restoring Nazism, it isn’t about an idol on a pedestal. I have no moral obligation to tolerate ideas that support bigotry and physical harm. The march was about reviving a past, bringing back a mindset that not just marginalized people with disabilities
but worse. It’s not a distortion of history that Nazis killed those they deemed unfit for their utopia. Those marchers carried both Nazi and Confederate flags. The message of ‘Jew will not replace us’ and other references to Nazi ideology were loud and clear. In their world I world, I don’t belong.
The march in Charlottesville was about denying me not just my rights but denying my life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. I’m not morally bound to tolerate such ideas. I have every obligation to take a stand, pick a side: to be realistic in my efforts to work for and establish peace among people. I also have to acknowledge that in some cases, agreement isn’t possible – and I am not ‘agreeing to just disagree. My thoughts on this situation have been called ‘bullshit. One friend suggested in a meme that preserving Confederate statues was similar to preserving what remains of Auschwitz. When I shared with her why such justification was appalling, she thanked me for helping her see another point of view. Mostly, my friends have responded with grace:” Dear Phil, I appreciate your honesty in openly sharing your personal fears and frustrations. I am among those who consider rioting around statues counterproductive at best. Both sides in the Charlottesville mess seem to be very interested in controlling what others do, say, display, or think. It takes courage to reflect on one’s own experience and express one’s own emotions in a calm and rational manner. I believe this kind of sharing leads to understanding, appreciation for others, and ultimately a better future. I’d like to see a whole lot more of this and a lot less pointless bickering and name calling.” 

I am another voice in a loud ruckus. I know. I’m just weary. It does get tiresome. The disrespect for people with disabilities is rarely cited in the litany of faults. As a result, people with disability get marginalized again and again. The Civil Rights Movement lead to changes in how people with disability are seen – sometimes literally allowing us to be seen in mainstream society. I am not whining or complaining- just campaigning so people like me don’t get trampled in the crowd. I am stepping out of the margins and I hope someone hears my message loud and clear.

Photo by Casey Kilmartin, Meme by Brennan M Gilmore.


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The World of Wonder Awaits*

A conversation early during my recent trip to Badlands National Park, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons National Park, and other points of interest has stayed on my mind. During the conversation with a fellow traveler at one of our stops, she commented, “ Isn’t it wonderful how God made all of this so the people who live around here can profit from the tourism and make a living?” I was a bit taken aback by such a direct economic explanation of divine intent. Yet, the comment spurred a measure of contemplation. Some I shared with her. Some I poured onto the pages of the journal I took with me. I wrote, (The conversation) ‘ surely could develop into quite a Talmudic like debate if I had the time and resources with me. But, I particularly don’t feel drawn in that direction.’ Instead, my thoughts picked up on another comment she made in the course of the same conversation- which really wasn’t long or even deep- which she made about teachers who struggle to motivate students to learn. She was following up on my comment about how challenging it is to teach from text vs. the learning gained from experience. I wish I had seen what I was seeing before I taught, but would such knowledge really have made the job easier? Are my photos better than those in National Geographic etc.? The woman remarked about her high school age grandson, “Why make him read stuff he just isn’t interested in?” The question just dangled because truthfully. How is one to respond in such a casual situation ? I really doubt she was seeking an answer. But, my imagination took the bait. Thank goodness (God) the conversation was early in our journey.

It was if I were receiving a divine incentive not to just passively take in what I was experiencing on this trip. I needed to take notice. Sometimes just sit and and see without the camera or without the pen and journal.

With my iPhone and and digital camera ready, I tried to capture the perfect snapshots. I think I succeeded every once in awhile. I’m satisfied with the results and my photos will spark great memories and serve as icons of the majestic scenes they depict. With notebook handy, I jotted down my impressions and snippets of information shared by Leslie, our tour guide. But, I think it’s impossible to truly capture the immense beauty and awe-filled moments of being surrounded by what I know to be the work of G-d.
I’ve tried to create images on film and in words which will evoke memory easily. Nothing tops firsthand experience. Philosophically, the experience can not be repeated. I am grateful for exposure to the concept of sacramental imagination. I wouldn’t describe my vacation as a pilgrimage, but, indulging in the sacrament of time and place deepened the experience and undoubtedly made the trip an everlasting memory. At one point in a hotel room without a clock, I knew distinctly the difference – if only for a moment – between Chronos and Kairos sense of time. In my efforts to balance my educational journalist tendencies with the some need to muse poetically, I often found words insufficient. How does one capture a wonderland experience? Yellowstone in particular was a place of contrast. Images of Eden came to mind. But so did rather scary thoughts of the overpowering pressures and forces found churning in nature. Time seemed a mix of present, past, and, eerily, future. Peaceful and simple. Complex and daunting; even frightening. No wonder the Psalms are such powerful instruments for contemplation.

Photo by Philip Moore

Over and over, I pictured in my mind’s eye a much younger self sitting in a classroom, library, or my childhood bedroom learning science and history. Repeatedly , my mind moved from being a child on a school bus to the adult on a tour bus. At once fascinated by the facts and mystery of the Earth and all that I have learned and still need to learn. The schoolboy reading biographies, history, and science. The adult /former teacher/ continual learner/traveler formulating a way to communicate the importance of knowing and learning; Earth is continuously active. Human activity plays its part, positively and negatively. Yes, the facts remain. But, what I learned long ago is not exactly what the facts are today. Both landscape and even facts will be different should I venture to these places again. I myself will be older. Circumstances change. Clearly the land seen by our ancestors long ago is not precisely the same. Jokingly, Leslie said, “ Let’s get together in a hundred, a thousand, years from now and find out. I found myself recalling tons of book learning from over the years and imperfectly remembering verses of scripture and hymn. I’m grateful not just for secular but spiritual learning and formation also. There was a degree of regret that maybe, just maybe, I could have been a better student both in school and Sunday School alike. Definitely, I am thankful for my education. Religious and secular education pair and complement each other. 

In my journal I pride myself in my liberal arts outlook as well as my appreciation of the concept behind Torah umadda (essentially establishing a sense of balance – give and take- between the secular/ scientific and matters of faith). Note specifically that in the process of writing this essay, I acknowledge my continual development and education in both areas.
I’m left with renewed appreciation for many things. The ability to see. My ability to think and to express myself – and at times to not express myself no matter how motivated. I’m thankful for photography and technology and how they enhance my experience and preserve it. 

Mostly, today, as I compile my thoughts before they fade, I appreciate my imagination and how it fosters my education. Or perhaps, it’s the other way around, or both? I  still have much to learn. I have many more places to go. 

I do hope that my photographs, journal entries and this blogpost have a purpose. I guess the teacher in me though seemingly dormant is actively seeking your attention to encourage you to learn, to explore, to question to search. The World of wonder awaits. Don’t wait a thousand or a hundred years. Read. Travel. Go . Learn. 

*The title refers back to my very first Off and On the Margins post. 

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No apologies to Jane Eyre. Applause to Charlotte Brontë 

I didn’t like Jane Eyre. I find her a fascinating character. But, I don’t like her. Dear Reader! Please hear me out. Don’t turn a deaf ear to my ramblings and I’ll try not to prattle on as Rochester does without acknowledging someone else is in the room. I trust you will just peruse these remarks and note them as my scribbling in reaction to such a well crafted novel.Indeed, I applaud Miss Brontë’s ability to craft a multilayered tale which held my attention long enough to see beyond the predictable plot to discover the magic of the words juxtaposed in a way which compelled me to turn the pages. I was not spellbound but certainly drawn in. 

Plain simple Jane. No actress but certainly a character. It was curious entertainment to see how you changed. You ventured forth from Gateshead to a world that taught you something and you taught some lessons along the way as well. But, no matter, dear orphan, the learning is lost on me. You still remain very much caught in your life’s circumstance and remain the girl hiding behind the curtain throughout your narrative. At story’s end, you have grown and exercise the independence you longed for life long . Yes, dear, crafted well. But you are caught in a dreadful ignorance of just encumbered you are. You are chambered, locked in, not just in the pages of your fate penned centuries ago. Old. Classic. Always young maiden. Enshrouded by a time and society strange to modern thought. Yet, like Helen Burns’ epithet, you rise to live still.  You have endured more than your 19 years. Acareful reader sees how your Creator has not left you in Thornfield but neither are you left in the Moors among the Rivers. I’ll not spoil just wicked deception threw you out to land however briefly into a Eden like existence where it seemed you finally found some peace only to willingly to give into the seduction of a man clearly marked by his own fiery past. It is bright as day to me that I have not skimmed the darkness of the story woven of many webs hidden beneath the surface of this Bildungsroman. I was indeed surprised by some contrivances which held the chapters into a complex compilation of myth and detailed biography of a novel character. 

In the end though, I feel free to call, foul! Jane does not show enough chutzpah at times. As I commented while reading, Jane is too willing to forgive and forget; she doesn’t show believable anger. She’s too willing to trust the one who wrongs her the most. True, I’m guilty of imposing judgement and forgiveness as much as Jane. But, I can not help but stay firm in my assessment that it is all vanity to borrow a scripture. It may be bullshit or a pile of charred remains in the thorny field of fables of times past. Yet, it was worth the read . The classic stands .

A friend responds:

What you write is true, but I would have to move beyond – Jane is an orphan, as you say, and has no real role model to base any part of her life on. She … (doesn’t know how a family is) * I edited my friend’s remark here. Certainly she is flawed, but she is a young woman trying to make a something out of the nothing that life has handed her. That she is still standing and trying to figure out what love is (and isn’t) is to be applauded. I only hope that Jane becomes the mother of a couple of kids, loves them, loves their father, and that is enough. (A sequel would be quite interesting – what would your plot look like?)
I reply: 

I would have liked Jane to have gone to India with St.John. Imagine all the possibilities of how to include allusions to the spiritual nature of things. Of course, she may still have ended up with the same person. But at least she could have really gained ‘ her sea legs’ and realized she was stronger and able to stand on her own. But, how realistic is that? Brontë, I think , points out exactly what you say. I didn’t miss that.
Plus, there is nothing like looking at yourself and your values than by examining them from the viewpoint of someone else – a foreign point of view. Everybody who ‘saw’ Jane and whom Jane saw were like her in someway. Perhaps encounters in India would have given her real insight. It could have been another story within the story. Perhaps Jane writing to St. John’s sisters and Adele.

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I don’t hate library books, really.

     I don’t like library books. I don’t like library books because lately I juggle reading more than one book and inevitably one book gets put on hold while I frenetically attempt to not miss the due date of another; especially if a popular book makes renewal impossible. But, libraries are essential. Goodness knows I can’t afford every book I’ve read. Nor is every book worth a purchase.

     In October 2016, my aunt and I attended an event sponsored by Lane Public Library of Butler County, Ohio. The keynote speaker was author/historian David McCullough.

     He was honored by Lane Library for his dedication to history, telling of American History in the many books he has written and speeches he has given. 

McCullough, as one might guess, if familiar with his work, is well versed, an engaging professor. I came home that evening and requested his book The Wright Brothers . Yes, McCullough convinced me to read his book but even though it was a fascinating read, I didn’t mind returning to the library when I finished it. 

      McCullough has already convinced me, however, to certainly read his not yet completed history of The Northwest Ordinance. That October evening, McCullough plugged his up-coming book because I’m sure he knows it will play well here in Ohio just as I’m sure The Wright Brothers did ( one may even suppose he’d smile at my use of story and occasional pun). After all in these two books, Ohio is ‘ the heart of it all.’ He’s telling our story, our history. 

McCullough had no idea a Marietta College alumnus was sitting in the audience that night in the other southern corner of Ohio from Marietta, Ohio. Marietta, my other home, the first settlement in the Northwest Territory . McCullough lavished praise on my alma matter and particularly on  the help he got from Marietta College’s library and librarians while researching his book. I was one proud pioneer.
     By now, if you read this far, it should come as no surprise that I checked out McCullough’s book, The Spirit of America: Who We Are & What We Stand For from my library when I could. 

It is a compilation of 15 speeches McCullough has delivered on various occasions between 1989 and 2016; several of the speeches being commencement addresses, others speeches marking some anniversary of an historical event or at an historic location.

This perpetual student had to resist the urge to mark passages and remark in the margins. See? Yet, another reason to hate library books. Ha, ha. The perpetual teacher just had to share what I was reading too – so here I sit  writing this. I imagine McCullough can relate to both ideas of perpetual student and perpetual teacher. I am positive though that  has not urge to mark the material he encounters. It is clear from his work  he has had plenty to say about what he has read and what he has learned over the years. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the Commencement Address, The Bulwark of Freedom, delivered to the class of 2004 at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. In it McCullough touches on the importance of education as the bulwark of freedom (emphasis mine). 

Throughout the entire collection, I was reminded of why I chose to become a teacher; how much I appreciate the education I have received at the Cincinnati Cerebral Palsy Center, Condon School for Crippled Children, Walnut Hills High School, Marietta College, and Xavier University – all historically significant institutions. And… chided by my own thoughts of: if I had it to do all over again, I’d do it all differently. I’d pay more attention. I’d read more, remember more, take more notes and notice how history has left its mark on me. Yet, as McCullough reminds in this collection and I can rest assured via his other works, history wasn’t neat and pretty and our re- presentation (purposely hyphenated to emphasize the idea of presenting something anew or again) is never 100 % accurate. After all, no one lives in anything but the present.

In the years since retirement, I have re-examined my teaching career numerous times and here too, I have to admit, I’d do things differently. But, I can only hope some sort of legacy lives on.

Again McCullough voice is clear on this:
We should never look down on those of the past and say they should have known better. What do you think they will be saying about us in the future? They’re going to be saying we should have known better. Why in the world did we do that? What could we have been thinking?” 

I am living my life. I’m reading. I’m traveling – some of that travel may only be through history in books. I’m forming opinions and values which I hope make some impact on those with whom I share. 

And so I continue to mark off and on the margins. Maybe someday it will give someone (including myself) a clearer picture of what I was thinking. Perhaps. 

PS: no library books were defaced in the course of writing this essay. 

PPS: history is and isn’t just postscripts, think about it.

PPPS: I don’t really hate library books. 

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Rockwell Redux: An Interview with Maggie Meiners

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