Monday, March 22, 2010

A Credit to Her Profession

One thing I like to do with this blog is recognize stories about people who have done inspirational things. My daughter shared this with me tonight, an experience one of her friends, Ms. E, wrote to her. Ms. E is a teacher, and from what I can see, a very sensitive and wise individual. Enjoy!
Today I got to be a good teacher.
Okay, so obviously every day is a chance to do my job and do it well, but... Today I was reminded vividly about what it was like to be a 13-year-old girl, and got to dispense the advice that I wish someone other than my mother would have told me when I was that age.
I was in the office talking to my assistant principal, and when I walked out, K, a student of mine from first semester, was sitting at a desk, writing on one of our Official Student Statement sheets and looking, like.... intensely distressed. Now, K is a good girl. K never gets in trouble, was the one kid I've had who never turned in homework late, ever, and is just all around awesome. So to see her in the office writing on something... yeah.
"Hey, Miss K! What are you doing in here, petal?" I asked.
She explained that Ms. T, her math teacher, had caught her combing her hair in class. "She said it was nasty," K said. "And I put the comb away, and said I was sorry, but then she said..." K's eyes started to well with tears, her lower lip quivering. "She said it wouldn't even make a difference, anyway, whether I combed it or not."
"What did you say?" I asked, hoping she hadn't been sent to the office.
"I didn't say nothing," K said.
"You came at passing period?" I asked.
She nodded. At this point she was full-on crying.
I thought about how I had been at 13. God, was that a fucking shitty age.
"Well," I said, taking a deep breath, "two things. First, I'm really proud of you for keeping yourself together and not saying anything back to Ms. T. I know how hard it is when someone says something to you that hurts your feelings, even if they're a teacher. You made a really smart choice there, and you showed just how mature you are."
She nodded, the tears still coming down her cheeks, quick and heartbreaking.
"The other thing I'm gonna do is tell you what my grandmother told me when I was your age. This is age-old wisdom, K, are you ready for it?" I smiled, trying to get her to look less like she wanted to curl up into a ball and sink into the chair.
"My grandmother always told me that a lady should never reveal how she achieves perfection. You don't want people to see what goes on behind the scenes - you want them to think that you just woke up looking like your perfect self. If you need to comb your hair, you want to do that somewhere private, and walk out like your hair was always that way. Combing your hair in the middle of class..." I didn't want to say is pretty gross, so I paused, searching for something more tactful. "It's not ladylike."
She looked up at me with serious eyes, still wet with tears. "Yes, ma'am," she said. "I know."
"But most importantly, K," I said, "I know how important it is for you to look put together. I know you don't want to look messy, and that's why you were combing your hair. You need to find an appropriate place to do it, but there's nothing wrong with wanting to look well-groomed, you understand?"
"Exactly!" she said, a ghost of a smile finally coming to her face.
"Honey, what Ms. T said about your hair... I know she didn't mean it like that, but even if she did, she's wrong. Your hair is lovely, and you take good care of it and it shows."
The tears were still coming, but she was smiling now, wiping them away.
"But your hair is not the most important thing about you. It's not even the most important thing about the way you look. You could have long hair, curly hair, a giant Afro, you could dye your hair three different colors or have a big old bald head and you would still be absolutely gorgeous. You're a wonderful, beautiful girl, and nothing Ms. T or anyone says about you or your hair is going to change that."
I felt my inner 13-year-old smile. K smiled back at her, even if she didn't quite know it.
"Now," I said, taking a deep breath. "Let me get you a kleenex and a hug."
She took the hug first, then the kleenex. I left her finishing up her statement, and went back to my room to have a little cry.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Another Great Story

Thank you to all who have written with stories and sentiments about our veterans. I have permission to share one more with you and I believe you'll find it enjoyable. It's great to see wonderful things like this:

"My dad had a quite unusual experience in WWII. He grew up in the hills of Okanogan, then moved to Longview in 1929 when he was a teenager. The army first tried to draft him in early 1942, but he was underweight. Then he decided he needed to do something for the country, plus one of his older brothers had just been drafted into the infantry, so he put on some weight and then on the second try to draft him he weighed enough. The army gave him some aptitude tests, and then told him, “You WILL be a radio operator.” He was sent to the Signal Corps radio/telegraph school in Georgia, and decided he would give it everything he had. Out of a group of 85 guys, he was at the top of the class with Morse Code, and was the only one from that outfit selected for a very special assignment: being part of a crack team of radio operators in England whose job was to intercept German communications. These were those Enigma Code transmissions you may have heard about.

Just before going overseas, he was sent to the Pentagon for a week. He was thinking, “Here I am, a guy from the sticks who only went through the 8th grade, standing in the Pentagon. How did I get this far so fast?” When he got to England, he became seriously ill and could not eat, and ended up in hospital, as they say. If he had been there for 30 days they would have sent him home, but on the 29th day he recuperated, and went to his assignment in a castle outside of London.

The codes had to be copied perfectly, so the army needed these guys to be well rested and taken care of. The codes were in five letter groups, random characters, and they had to be handwritten, then these were given to the commanding officer who sent them to a then-unknown location to be translated. He slept on a cot in the castle, had to be at his station for 8 hours a day with no breaks whatsoever, and had weekends off. As the war wound down in 1945, and they were waiting to go back home, he was put up in a nearby hotel, and got room service, 3 big meals a day including steak, and slept on a feather bed. As he used to say, “It was some army life!!”

Meanwhile, his older brother Buster came in on Utah Beach the second day of the invasion. He was living in foxholes. There were many instances of God’s miraculous protection over him. Shortly after arriving at Normandy, he got a mail package from his mother: it was a pocket size Bible, Old and New Testaments, very small print. (Today I carry that little book at my work on the mail route. It is getting hard to read now except in sunlight.) In 1945, he and my dad were out touring the country on bicycles while waiting to go home, and they met. They had a big laugh about the extreme contrast between their lifestyles."

Saturday, March 6, 2010

From the perspective of one who served...

I have received some very meaningful responses to my last post, and I wanted to share one with you. This person has given permission to share his story and I think it illustrates so well what I was trying to say before. Our military personnel do not see themselves as anything special. They are just doing their jobs....however, when you step back a bit and overlay what they do in the context of history, it can look very different and that is where we are provided with the understanding of just what kind of meaning is ascribed to the jobs that they do.
"It has taken a while to respond because I wanted to give this some thought, in between the many fires one puts out while consulting on a state representative campaign, a prosecutor campaign and a US Senate campaign.
I enlisted during the Vietnam War. They weren’t shipping 17 year olds or I most likely would have wound up jungle temperature because I wasn’t the most savvy individual wearing a uniform. I had a lot of book-learning: scored very high in tests, but lacked the skill set necessary to put it all together for at least 2 years. But in all of that, I don’t recall thinking profound thoughts. We very much lived in the moment.
They were, arguably, moments that varied from the searing heat of Saudi Arabia to the mind numbing cold of Grafenwhoer or the East German border. They were moments of sheer, unadulterated boredom to indescribable, white light excitement.
But in all of that, we viewed the forest with the tree bark within inches of our faces. We mostly weren’t big-picture guys. I knew the quasi-isolation of living on the East German border a long way away from Frankfurt Airport/Rhein Main Air Base… which would have been taken out immediately if the balloon went up, quickly killing any expectation of evacuating dependents.
Because of our proximity to the border and the fact that I knew the dependent evacuation plan was just so much eye wash, I knew the feeling of teaching my former wife the rudimentary knowledge she needed to have of a .45… of putting that .45 away into a closet and turning to look at her to tell her that she should not allow herself or the children to be taken alive.
I knew that.
But there was no historical perspective for me, since I was in the moment.
Much like viewing life from the wrong end of a telescope, the view was stilted and primarily focused on the maximum range of the 120 MM smoothbore cannon on an Abrams tank (3000 meters) and how far the M3 Cavalry Fighting Vehicle (Bradley) could go on a tank of fuel. The things we did were things we had to do and conditions we had to live in, places frequently hostile to us and our mission. During that time, I saw the best and the worst of men. I saw great commanders and mediocre officers. I saw the political animals and the truly great.
But it was rarely, if ever, viewed in terms of sacrifice at the time.
I spent 6 years in the middle of one battlefield or another in Germany and other places where horrific things were the insane order of the day. I visited the ancestral estates of the Count of Dachau… twice… and you’re right… you DO “feel it.”
If you have not served… or have not suffered the loss of a loved one… or part of a loved one… you can never truly know or understand these things. That vacuum is now felt at the highest levels and shows in the cluelessness of this nation’s leadership.
I don’t feel worse for our civilian culture that neither has nor wants to find that understanding. I don’t know that there’s ever enough that we can do for our combat veterans… the risks and costs are so great, and they’ve frequently paid it.
But I don’t view the time I spent in the military as a sacrifice. We all owe a debt at some level; the question is which?
I was hard wired for the Army. I wasn’t perfect for it, and for me, it was extremely difficult to traverse the political terrain (I frequently did not play well with the other children) and I made some very bad judgments in the area of my personal life. But most likely, I would have made them regardless of my chosen vocation.
I probably would have stayed in another 6 years or so until retirement (Sheesh… retirement at age 37) and I would have caught the first Persian gulf war. But the family situation killed that off. I regret missing that war. But in saying that, it isn’t because of a duty to my country so much as it is the latent desire to engage in the thing I knew best how to do under the conditions I was meant to do it in. Not to worry. Others have taken my place.
I just wish our country would keep its word to us about what we would receive in return for service. But since that is not going to happen, I leave you with this:
You can bet that I stand ready when the wolf growls at the door,
Hey, I'm solid, hey I'm steady, hey I'm true down to the core,
And I will always do my duty, no matter what the price,
I've counted up the cost, I know the sacrifice,
Oh, and I don't want to die for you,
But if dying's asked of me,
I'll bear that cross with an honor,
'Cause freedom don't come free.
I'm an American Soldier, an American,
Beside my Brothers and my Sisters I will proudly take a stand.
When liberty's in jeopardy I'll always do what's right.
I'm out here on the front lines, sleep in peace tonight.
American Soldier,
I'm an American Soldier.
It’s what I was meant to be. And the greatest loss within my life, outside my son, will be that I did not die in uniform.
I don’t write this out of any sense of sacrifice for doing that which I chose to do for the country that has provided me with the ability to succeed beyond my wildest dreams. But part of me never stopped being a soldier. And even now, after being out for 23 years… I still miss it terribly. Most of us, given a choice, wouldn’t have it any other way.