Not Taking Things for Granted

Today I am writing in response to an article by Neal Tognazzini  in this Sunday’s Week in Review section of the New York Times.  The gist of the article is about how we hurry through life, mostly taking things for granted, until something happens to give us pause and rethink the way we’ve been living. This has happened to so many of us.

For me “the something” was fourth-stage metastasized cancer. Four summers ago, I had just retired and was looking forward to my new life when it was suddenly hijacked by an extreme cancer diagnosis. I survived… and like so many survivors, was determined to never again take anything for granted. This article provoked some new thoughts on taking things for granted and how important it is to be able to put some things on the back burner so we can live our lives.

These things we take for granted can include a family we care about and that cares about us; a comfortable home that no one is trying to take from us; a job that affords us a paycheck to buy the things we want and need from week to week, year to year; the luxury of coming home after work to have a tasty, healthy meal and a couple hours to do what brings us pleasure….taking a walk, hanging out with family members, watching our favorite shows on tv.

So, what if you had none of the things I’ve mentioned? No possibility of a satisfying, well paying job in the near future or perhaps in your lifetime. No idea where certain members of your family are, and no hope of finding them. You do not own a home and never will be able to afford to. You are not even sure your “home” will be there when you return to it. Nourishing food is out of the question due to droughts, famine, or an ongoing combat situation. These are all extremely disorienting factors in the lives of so many people.

Tognazzini, writes about learning he has squamous cell cancer, but will survive:

“I came to realize that being oriented–having one’s bearings–requires being located somewhere, and that being located somewhere requires having some ground to stand on. What we take for granted is that ground.”

These words caused me to think about the thousands of children around the world who have left their homes with their families in search of “having some ground to stand on.” Many refugees have lost family members and/or their homes, however humble they might have been. They are stateless…without location. They belong nowhere. These children can never take a meal for granted, often don’t know where they are going or if they will have shelter when they get there. They are at the mercy of climate change, failed economies, malevolent leaders, uneducated parents, global indifference. There is no way they can imagine a future without loss and suffering. There is no guarantee they will find any ground to stand on.

In the coming days, weeks, months and years, teachers will encounter children and parents who do not have a safe, secure home; who cannot take the next meal for granted; who do not know when they will next see a loved one torn from them. For many kids, going to school in America is the first time in their lives they will have consistency and “some ground to stand on.” As teachers we must transcend politics and prejudice. We must model compassion and concern for others. We must make an effort to help the disenfranchised.  By providing support, encouragement and a safe environment for learning we can make a huge difference in someone’s life.  Every human being deserves this.

It’s So Hot ….

photo above: https://www.occupy.com/article/first-signs-global-climate-change-immigration-crisis-are-here#sthash.bb2ie5Hz.dpbs

We’ve all heard this statement at one time or another:
“It’s so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk.”

Here are some of my  thoughts regarding the heat wave we’re currently experiencing in the northeast.

It’s so hot… I haven’t left my house (with AC) in two days except to water the outdoor plants
It’s so hot… sunscreen melts right off my face
It’s so hot… the birds are lined up at the bird bath to take a refreshing dip
It’s so hot… it’s too hot to go to the beach
It’s so hot… tiny ants are coming into the house for relief
It’s so hot… even the weeds are wilting
It’s so hot… the AC is constantly running (and so is the bill)
It’s so hot… the bees aren’t showing up for the newly blossoming bee balm
It’s so hot… I’m thinking of putting on a bathing suit to go for a swim (at my age that’s an act of courage)
It’s so hot… we’re eating only fruit and salads to keep our calorie intake lower
It’s so hot… even thunderstorms don’t cool things off
It’s so hot… the leaf blowers are silent in the neighborhood

There’s an article in the NY Times Sunday Week-in-Review section (July 1), Fleeing a Warmer World (by Lauren Markham), about how drought caused by climate change is driving vast numbers of people to leave their homes in Central America and in desert areas of Africa. People who have lived for centuries in these areas can no longer subsist: they are desperate for ways to feed their families and so they are on the move. This is not the first time migration on this scale has happened in the history of the world. The Abandonment of Chaco Canyon in our own Southwest, for example, believed to have occurred about 1150, has long been attributed at least partially to a drought that literally drove the Anasazi cliff-dwellers from their homes, never to return.


White House, Canyon de Chelly, Arizona
(https://ridb.recreation.gov/images/80267.jpg)


Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon
(http://archeyes.com/pueblo-bonito/)

In the period between A.D. 1125 and 1180, very little rain fell in the region. After 1180, rainfall briefly returned to normal. From 1270 to 1274 there was another long drought, followed by another period of normal rainfall. In 1275, yet another drought began. This one lasted 14 years.

When this cycle of drought began, Anasazi civilization was at its height. Communities were densely populated. Even with good rains, the Anasazi were using their land to its limits. Without rain, it was impossible to grow enough food to support the population. Widespread famine occurred. People left the area in large numbers to join other pueblo peoples to the south and east, abandoning the Chaco Canyon pueblos and, later, the smaller communities that surrounded them. Anasazi civilization began a long period of migration and decline after these years of drought and famine. By the 1300s, it had all but died out in Chaco Canyon.

Was drought alone the only factor in the mass abandonment of the pueblos? Some archaeologists now believe that other factors — religious upheaval, internal political conflict, or even warfare — may have combined to exacerbate the effects of the drought. Whatever the root causes of the famine were, the archaeological evidence clearly shows it was devastating to the Anasazi.
(https://www.learner.org/exhibits/collapse/chacocanyon.html)

In the early 1980s when I was a young mother with a newborn and a toddler, we lived in a simple ranch style house with no AC. I remember the summer days of extreme heat all too well. I sat in the backyard under our large oak tree with my feet in a kiddie pool where my toddler son sat while I tried to nurse my baby who was literally stuck to my overheated, sweating body. I had never felt hotter in my life until now. I distinctly remember thinking “so this is how the poor people of the world live; at least those close to the equator.” Escaping the heat was all I could think of during heat spells and we had plenty of them in the ’80s. It’s no wonder people are again migrating across deserts and oceans in search of a drop of water, relief from the extreme heat and a place more hospitable to raising a family. If I were them, I’d be doing the same.

Hope Springs Eternal…for a Young Syrian in a Greek Refugee Camp

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:
The soul, uneasy and confined from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man


Today many Christians are celebrating Easter, a holiday that honors the rebirth of Jesus Christ who was crucified on the cross two days earlier on Good Friday. Many other religions are also celebrating their annual Spring rites. Although I no longer espouse a particular religion (I was raised as a Lutheran), I did take a few moments this morning after brunch to reflect on the meaning of this holiday. To me, Spring rituals are all about hope.

The essay about the Refugee King of Greece in the New York Times Sunday Review section on April 16, 2017, reinforced for me how important it is to have hope, even when there doesn’t seem to be any. It is the story of a young Syrian refugee, Bassem Omar, who introduces himself to the Times reporter (Ashley Gilbertson) as the King of Ritsona. She goes on to say, “His Majesty, a 20-year-old refugee from Qamishli, Syria, offers a tour of his realm, and as we walk he’s greeted by friends of all ages.” As he moves amongst his “subjects” he reminds them that “I want to make Ritsona great again, and the people agreed.”

I am immediately struck by the ironic title he has given himself, and especially by his personal version of the now-famous Trump slogan, Make America Great Again, which Omar has now adapted to his own crusade to improve life for himself and his fellow refugees in the small village of Ritsona, 50 miles north of Athens. This is a young man who is well informed about global politics, and who has been able to give an ironic twist to his own circumstances using the words of the Leader of the Free World, Donald Trump. He is clearly a rebel with a cause and that is why I am so drawn to him.

After 13 attempts at escaping by using fake IDs and passports, only to be turned back by police at the airport and sent back to Ritsona, he has decided he can no longer make an effort to escape because if “I fail at this again, I will kill myself. I have to stop trying. So now I await the decision of relocation.” I read his words as meaning he no longer has hope he can escape, so he is readjusting his circumstances in order to continue to hold hope in his heart.

His story leads me to reflect on my own two grown children, now 33 and 35, for whom hope is also an essential part of their lives. My 35-year-old son was able to go to a wonderful college, travel abroad to Germany, and fashion himself a career in filmmaking over the past decade. He is filled with hope for his future endeavors; in the “indie” film business, hope is the staff of his life.

My daughter, about to turn 34, has had many setbacks in her life due to a series of five open-heart surgeries, but she remains hopeful that with a good deal of patience and perseverance, she, too, can have a fulfilling life. She is working hard toward that goal. Without hope, she would find it hard to go on. Even though their circumstances are challenging in different ways, both have had our support, financially, emotionally and intellectually, and the freedom to pursue their dreams. But what about those who don’t have any support?

As I turn my thoughts back to Bassem Oman, I am deeply touched by the poignancy of his young life and his ambitions.

As he surveys his kingdom of 700 refugees living within a barbed wire refugee camp, he remains satirically confident. He tells the reporter that in two days he will be celebrating his one-year anniversary in this camp. “‘We will host a royal party at Cafe Ritz to celebrate,” he says, referring to the distribution center. ‘You are welcome to come.'” These words represent the bravado of a young man who refuses to give up hope in the face of all odds.

I would like to put my arm around Bessem Omar’s shoulders, as I do with my own grown children, and tell him that I believe in him and his hope more than anything else I can think of. I will try to send a message of hope to him through the New York Times. If he cannot fulfill his dreams, what hope is there for humanity?