Posted by: Ken A Locke | March 15, 2017

Shattered By This Story

Do you count the blessing of every day?  I thought I did, until I came across this story as I casually perused the local violin shop’s website.  In considering selling my viola, I looked up the shop’s website, McHugh’s Violins.  He has a sterling reputation and did some excellent repair work for me a few years ago in preparation for my return to the concert stage (my return was not nearly as dramatic as it sounds).

As I blithely wend my way through my retirement and into my second career as a writer, I consider passing on my wonderful musical instrument, the viola that my parents had gifted me upon graduation from high school.

I spent my years at University of Northern Colorado playing for hours – in chamber groups, in a practice room, in at least 3 different symphonies.  I loved those days.  The gift of serenity through classical music came to me as a 4th grader, playing “Barcarolle”, and continued through all the years I played.  Even though my practice hours were on the low side of the spectrum of music majors at UNC, I did still spend hours in Fraser Hall on that campus.  My wife and I fell in love in those hallways and practice rooms and rehearsals and concert halls.

I recently tried a revival of my career in the viola section, but, due to a series of realizations, the largest of which was I didn’t want to practice the hours I needed in order to excel again, I now count myself as a listener rather than a player.

I have different ambitions and dreams now yet no less hopeful that when I wanted to be an actual viola player in a professional, full-time orchestra.  I am creating a different kind of art but I love that I write best when I run endless classical music through my Bose headphones.

Back to the violin shop.  I got no further than the first sentence on his website (“My sweet wife Susie passed away peacefully on October 18th, 2016”) when I clicked on this link, “Our Journey”, and read his faithful, loving, heartbreaking, shattering account of their loving battle with her cancer.  I can’t imagine.  His and her story stopped time for me as I read from the beginning entry to the final one.  Please, take a few minutes and read.

Another friend of ours has blogged her entire journey through cancer.  The short answer is, in her words, “cancer sucks”, but that friends and family deeply matter.  You can read her journey right here in Michelle’s Blog.

 

I realize that today’s the day.  Make your move; make your memories; make your love known.

Posted by: Ken A Locke | February 12, 2017

Brothel Tokens and Cartography

The Delano District of Wichita, KS, used to be for cowboys.  Did you know that cowboys weren’t “cowboys” until they crossed into Oklahoma?  They were “drovers” because the men in question didn’t like to be called “boys”.

Cowboys could drive their cattle all the way into Wichita, which meant across the Arkansas River and to the stockyards, but they had to go back to Delano for whoring and drinking.  Cowboys were NOT ALLOWED TO STAY in Wichita because they would cause too much trouble looking for drink and women.  Plus Delano was a separate place.  Now it is merely a historic district of Wichita.

Have a look at the gold coin in the pictures.  That is a”brothel token”.  A real thing that cowboys or drovers used to get upon completion of a cattle drive.  “Good for one dollar in trade in girls, whiskey, or food” is what it says on the front.

In a little under 65 minutes yesterday, I learned an astounding amount of Kansas cattle history at Westlink Library, in Wichita, KS (Wichita Public Library).  Westlink staff had invited Tom Averill from Washburn University and Mary Lou Rivers from the Chisholm Trail 150th Anniversary Celebration (Chisholm Trail 150th) to come speak to a select few readers who had an hour (plus 5 minutes) to spare.

We had all agreed to read this book.  I happened to see it in a stack by the librarian’s elbow a few weeks ago and asked if I could attend the book talk.  As is their wont, the library happily said yes and set me up as an attendee.  Free.  No charge to come hear living history.

The book centers around an ‘eastern’ Kansan, Leo, who goes out west (near Hays) to teach and both get away from bad decisions back east and start over in the west.  He meets up with a cowboy/rancher and another, older cowboy who have always worked cattle and the land.  The ‘executive summary’ of the book is (and there will NOT be a test) that Leo learns enough to be a cowboy and help drive cattle all the way into Kansas City to the Stockyards back in the 1970’s.  Nice little story, right?

It was only after the expert treatment and discussion from the Washburn professor that I realized how deep the comparisons to life’s complexities the story ran.  As we discussed characters, archetypes, foreboding, and allegory I realized how many books carried similar themes in them.   I thought of Cold Mountain, Lord of the Flies, Lonesome Dove, and the movies City Slickers and The Graduate.  Those of you who teach will already know this.  Those of you who read will have already seen this.  Even though I read quite a bit, the profound truths that we polished took me by surprise during those 65 minutes.  I left the library grateful for the discovery of a vital geographical landmark in my personal map of understanding.

I’ll explain.

As I write, read, interact, absorb, understand, and share with my world (that is, the people I come in contact with), I see myself standing on a particular spot of earth.  Sometimes it is a ridge, sometimes a valley, sometimes a shore, sometimes a cave.  My clearest understanding places are the ridges and peaks of the map – I have a fairly good understanding and can explain lucidly what the situation is.  Air Traffic Control is one of those – I mostly “get it”, and can talk a person through the basic systems.  20th century fiction is another; I’m conversant in a lot of what has been written in the last 70 years.  The valleys, shores, caves are topics in which I have little understanding or data of background to help me out.  The whole refugee situation, for instance, feels like a shore for me.  I know there is a huge problem, but I have little empirical, experienced data to make super decisions with, other than to say ‘we ought to be helping find a solution’.  Clear as mud? OK, on we go.

The joy of adding landmarks to my personal cartography made that book session a gift.  I simply grinned at each person who added a story yesterday.  One of the ladies had a relative (he was a ‘several greats’ relative) who actually remembered how the cattle drive went and how much the pay was – passed down so she knew it.  Another expert marveled at how many people said the Chisholm Trail passed across their land.  She described how the trail moved around a lot – the dry seasons it had to follow water more closely; the wet seasons it had to stay higher to avoid soggy ground.  One point of discussion was how NYC people thought the entire state of Kansas was full of hicks and cowboys, but to cowboys you didn’t have to go farther than Kansas City to find city people (and yes, several of us DID say ‘everything’s up to date in Kansas City’).

Angie and I stopped in The Monarch, which is in Delano (where the cowboys could go, remember?), the other evening to cap off the work week.  The corner signpost, out the window, had a sign that said “The Chisholm Trail”.  We sat in the literal place where the cowboys came to recover from the long drives they’d just finished.

Discovery.  We are built for it.  We often stumble on it.  I certainly do…  it’s like opening the ‘junk drawer’ and realizing it is full of priceless memories.

I’ve got no real idea where we are headed, and I have precious few answers about what is going on today, but it sure is nice to look back over the ground we’ve covered.

Get to the ridge, set your load down, take a deep breath, and look around a little.  Let us know what you see.

Posted by: Ken A Locke | February 4, 2017

The Era of Milk and Laundry

I’ve been noticing lately, a change in our quantity and inventory.  A profound difference in quantities.  Normal items like milk, ground beef, laundry detergent, dryer sheets.

I remember a time when we went to the grocery store, to the dairy section, and put 2 GALLONS of milk into the cart.  No question.  We often wondered if we should just get 3 gallons so we didn’t have to come back midweek.  In our family’s heyday (not HayDay the tremendous phone game that I love to play – find that game in your app store) we would drink the crud out of milk.  2%.  Not whole, not skim.  Our kids would rush in from whatever middle or high school activity they just finished, grab the milk, and just glug.  Milk with dinner, milk before dinner, milk with cookies after dinner.  Angie and I would stand and marvel at their capacity.

Now that all three kids aren’t kids anymore, and are out of the house on their own, we find ourselves visiting the dairy section only now and then.  As a matter of fact, Ang drinks fat free 1/2 and 1/2 (fat-free half and half?  I’m not sure how to type that), and I mostly use whole milk for a cappuccino once or twice a week at home.  I USED to buy whole milk in (and here is my point about quantity) ONE QUART bottles until I had to pour over half down the drain because it spoiled in the three weeks it took me to drink it.  Now I buy ONE PINT.  And I hope that I use it before it goes bad.  Angie buys ONE PINT of “fat-free half and half” that lasts a week of morning coffee.

I know.  It’s not earth-shattering climate change data.  It’s not nearly the drastically different political change we’ve recently been experiencing.

Still.  Quantities.

Examine the change in quantities of a thing, and you can often demarcate a new era.  A new epoch.  A different time.  A season.  Of course, “for everything there is a season; there is nothing new under the sun”.

And, always, “Sunrise, Sunset”.

I trust there are still families buying milk in two-gallon trips to last them just a few days.  I’m sure the dairy industry has a steady supply of kids for whom “milk does a body good”.  I merely note that our family is now no longer leading the milk quantity consumption chart.

The other thing I am always amazed at is how little LAUNDRY we have to do.  We each do our own.  That way, we have clean what we want and when we want it.  “What do we want?? Clean Laundry!  When do we want it?? Uh, NOW, I guess!”

It used to be that, if we wanted to run a load or several of laundry, we’d have to get in line.  There was always an assembly line in front of the washer, the toilet next to it, the sink next to that, and sometimes (when we all had stuff to wash) out the door of the combo bathroom/laundry room.  5 people with either sports clothes or workout clothes plus work or school clothes – holy cow.  Go pee somewhere else cuz the door won’t shut until some more laundry is done.  Now, listen, when the kids were tiny, Ang usually ran the laundry.  But as we all grew, we each tried to do our own and take some responsibility.  It never fell to “only Mom” to get all that washing done.  We (mostly Angie) tried to get the kids to do their own, take charge, etc.  So when I say piles of laundry marching out into the hall, no one takes the blame.  It is simply a reality of QUANTITY.

Which brings me back to my point.  I can do a load of laundry literally whenever I feel like doing it.  I have two shirts I just bought that I want to wash before I wear them (and doesn’t EVERYone have to wash new clothes before you wear them??) and I may just throw them in here in a minute.  No waiting.  Plenty of laundry detergent.  Plenty of dryer sheets, too, for that matter.

It’s this kind of thing that marks the changing of the family season, even more than writing a new address for the kids in the address book (or typing a new address in their “contact”, as it were).

I love when the kids are home and I need to buy THREE pounds of ground beef for TMR (taco meat and rice).  TMR is just boring with one pound.  Oh, sure, a guy still makes it – it is just more fun when there a whole pile of people at the table (or in front of the TV watching “Big Business” or “Dumb and Dumber” for the millionth time) to eat it.

May I simply wish, then, that you enjoy the quantities that your season calls for.  Soon enough, those will change, and leave you wishing for more.

Posted by: Ken A Locke | December 24, 2016

Oysters, Potatoes, and Candles

I find myself remembering, with great fondness, Mom and Dad’s tradition of potato soup and oyster stew on Christmas Eve.  We did this as early as I can remember; always after we got back from church.

The Christmas Eve service is the one where you can play with fire, even if you are a little kid.  Because you ‘Pass the Peace of Christ’, you see.  Each person gets a candle upon entering the sanctuary, which, at the end of the service, you tip towards the lighted candle to light your own wick.  It is very important NOT to tip the LIGHTED candle.  The person with the lighted candle holds the flame straight up, and the ‘new candle’ tips toward the flame.  I loved this candle business because this was before the days of Boy Scouts where we were SUPPOSED to (reSPONSibly) play with fire.  The wax that managed to drip onto my fingers, through the paper candle holder, was merely a bonus to peel off and inspect for fingerprints.

With the heady responsibility of fire stewardship successfully carried out for another year, we returned to our warm home with the promise of two different kinds of soup.   Oyster crackers, all we could eat, made an appearance with Christmas Eve soup, too.  Take a moment and remember dropping those round crackers into soup; then slowly dunking them for a swim.  Although a simple meal, I now realize that potato soup takes quite a bit of work.  Fresh potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces, are not instantly ready.

Oyster stew, even with canned oysters, also takes a lot of preparation.  I dearly hope that I said ‘thank you’ to my mom for always having this traditional meal ready soon after our return from church.  I have only eaten oyster stew on Christmas Eve at my parent’s house in the middle of Nebraska.  I truly love the memory of this meal.  I imagine it is made other places in the world, but I have not tried it.

Imagine for a moment, having the luxury of choice.  Which pot will you fill your bowl with first?

Also, we got to open ONE present on Christmas Eve.  Only one – so the torment of choice dominated my very being, WHICH ONE FOR NOW??? What if I missed the best one?  Or more dire, what if I OPENED the best one on Christmas Eve – what would I do in the morning with no ‘good’ presents left??  Of course, it never came to that.  And we never got “bad” presents.  My over-active imagination at work, I guess.  I still have a ‘delayed gratification’ mentality about many things, gift-opening specifically.  If there was a way to NEVER open a gift, but still enjoy the feeling of having it to open, I would bottle that and sell it.

Gifts, of course, are for giving and opening, not for hoarding.

I do hope, this Eve, that you have a gift.  I hope you have a warm home to share.  I hope you have food to share.  I hope that your traditions are still alive, and that you have loved ones to whom you can pass these traditions.  Now that I am older, I realize how vital the message of Christmas Eve is; Jesus, on His way to save us from ourselves.

I wish blessings on you, your family, your tribe, and your efforts to bring light, peace, life, and love to this world.

Posted by: Ken A Locke | December 19, 2016

And Not a Drop to Drink

Poor little birds have no water to drink.  I’ve set out a heated base with a water dish on it.  Hopefully, this will allow our wild friends a sip of water now and then, so they can continue their rowdy lives in west Wichita.

From the comfort of my writing desk, in the swivel chair, I notice that the ‘water feature’ in our back yard has completely frozen.  The pump has stopped its faithful pumping, which has stopped the gentle trickle from pool one to pool two to the main pond.

I am always pleased to see the winter birds return to the back yard haven we’ve built; dark-eyes juncos, black-capped chickadees, cardinals, blue jays, and the cedar wax wings.  I haven’t put food out for years.  After all, I don’t want a bunch of moochers on my hands.  Plus bird seed tends to draw the ‘junk birds’, too.  Grackles and starlings show up in flocks; they have little regard for conscientious potty procedures.  Poop somewhere else, I say.

Not a world changer.  Not my job today.

Today, my job is to set out water for the thirsty.

Posted by: Ken A Locke | December 3, 2016

An Excerpt

I’ve had several requests from people I care about to show an excerpt from my #NaNoWriMo2016 manuscript, “Behind The Waterfalls”.  It’s a draft, so it won’t be perfect, but the setting in Chicago will be familiar to several choir people.  Here it is:

[Thus, the decision to put the parts of the gun into two fast food bags and one fast food cup and then into his string backpack.  He’d go for a quick run before breakfast.  He knew he’d have to report to breakfast by 7:30 so the director could ‘see his face’ and know that they were all on schedule for the morning.  There was time for a 25-minute jog along the morning streets of Chicago.  He’d go nowhere near last night’s street.  He’d throw his trash away, as if he had stopped for a snack while exercising.  A very American thing to do, after all.  Consume calories in order to burn calories.  Why else did we, as gym fanatics, take a 600 calorie gatorade on the treadmill with us?  At a brisk walk on the treadmill, with no incline (that hurts too much), the average member burned almost 400 calories an hour.  If they drank the entire gatorade, they’d have a net gain of 200 calories, if they managed to walk the entire hour.  

“Get back on task, Davis,” he muttered to himself.  Millard snored in the next bed.  He’d wanted to hear the whole story, but Davis told him ‘no, let’s rest first; it’ll be clearer in the morning’.  Which it already was, technically, but Millard had acquiesced, his eyes drooping, hands trembling.

Davis dressed quickly after the shower.  He pulled on his baggy basketball shorts in University of North Carolina colors, a ratty tank top that he’d really only brought along for lounging in the room after curfew, and his trusty ASICS running shoes.  He grabbed his string bag and key card, slid out of the room and quietly closed the door on the snoring Millard.

6:42.  Plenty of time to run out to the Navy Pier and drop the three parts of criminality along the way.  He’d return with a lighter string bag, a lighter conscience, and a new plan for downplaying the drama to Millard.  There was a chill in the air when he stepped through the revolving door of the hotel.  Humidity off Lake Michigan always made the wind cold, except in the month of two of summer when yearlong denizens welcomed the break.  Davis had never been to Chicago in the summer, and after this trip, had no plans to ever come back.  If he got away with THIS, he’d count his lucky stars and keep his head down.  As he warmed up, he was able to trot a little faster.  Once he got past the main street’s stoplights, it was a clear shot along the storefronts to the beginnings of the Navy Pier structure.  In truth, he had little idea why the place had Navy in the name.  Had he read even one plaque along the walkway, he’d have realized it was a landlocked training area for the Navy.  A cheaper one, especially for the boys who enlisted from the Great Lakes area.  Why, the Navy figured, put them all on trains down to an actual ocean when a third of them would fail basic training?  Fail them close to home, was the motto of the Navy way back when.

He only saw a few other people out at this time of the morning.  Most of the hard-core runners had been out and back home already.  Professionals started early so the runners had, for the most part, to be done and on their way by 6:30 so they could get to the office by 7.  Lots of the suits, as he thought of them, had strapped themselves into those jobs and it was their own fault.  He had no sympathy for them.  Davis’ plan was to get through this piddly high school shit, get to a 2-year college, and then be on his own way with his business brilliance.  He didn’t really think he needed any business training at all, but he agreed with his parents that he WOULD go get a 2-year degree (he’d negotiated them down from a 4-year Bachelor’s Degree – already winning in the negotiation department) just so they wouldn’t worry about him quite so much.  Trash cans dotted the pier and had little attention.  None of the cans was overflowing, but none looked completely empty, either.  Perfect for his needs.  He stopped to stretch near a cement bollard, a relic of the Navy, that had a trashcan in a metal permanent structure right next to it.

As he stretched his hamstring, which vibrated slightly from the chill, the adrenaline, and the effort, he casually unslung his bag.  Loosening the top, he reached in and grabbed the soda cup.  Although he was tempted to just get it over with and throw all three things in the same trash, he stopped himself.  He took only the cup and placed in well into the lip of the metal trash can holder, and saw the cup slide down the internal bag, resting with several other brands of fast food bags and cups.  ‘No one could ever tell there was a magazine of bullets in that cup unless they had a metal detector’, he thought, satisfied.  He trotted on, aiming for a distant can and bollard combo.  Reaching his intended target, he stretched the other hamstring, unslung the bag, and threw away the first of two small fast food bags.  This bag was the heaviest and bulkiest of the three because it contained the body of the beretta M9.  It was a calculated risk.  But still his best option.

“Hey, man, you ain’t throwin away any breakfast, now are ya?” he heard from behind him.

He turned, startled, “Oh, shit, man, you scared me!  Nah, I -” Davis said.

“Cuz I could sure use some hot food this morning, even warm food after that night.  It’s COLD out here now; summer’s over,” said the guy.  The guy looked homeless but harmless.  He had several layers of jackets on topped by an old Nike windbreaker.  The kind of windbreaker runners used to have back in the ‘90’s.

“Nah, man, I just brought my bag and got to thinking it was heavy and so I looked into it and realized I had a bunch of fast food trash in there.  It shouldn’t weigh that much, but damn, it was slowin’ me down,” Davis chuckled, unconsciously matching his speech rate and language to the guy’s own.  “If I had any money with me, I’d give you some.  I agree this is cold.  It’s my last morning here with the high school group.  We’re headed back west in a couple hours and I wanted one last look at this amazing view.  This sure seems like the ocean to ME; I’ve never seen anything so big.  The biggest water I’ve ever seen before this is a reservoir – NOT the same.”

“Yeah, you got that right, for sure.  Ok, man, you take care. Maybe next time bring some food or some money – I could sure use some right now, like I said,” his last comment as Davis turned to trot off.

Davis resisted the urge to turn around and see if the guy believed his story about the fast food or not.  Resisted turning to see if his plant would go unnoticed, or the entire story would unravel, right then and there.  Had he looked, he’d have seen the homeless guy, an Iraq war veteran, holding the open bag and looking down at what was surely a familiar weapon, one that the entire US Army carried as an officer sidearm.  Davis didn’t know that his whole sham had begun to unravel right at that point.

He wouldn’t know, in fact, until he got all the way back to his hometown, an unassuming small town on the edge of the Flint Hills of Kansas.  The third gun part dropoff maneuver was successful, the shower and cleanup and packing was normal, and he even made it to breakfast where he had to show his face to the director before her headcount was satisfied.  The bus trip home, while dull and monotonous, was without incident.  Millard had kept his distance once Davis explained that the only way to play it cool was to play it cool.  Hang with other friends; eat with a slightly different group on the way back.  It wasn’t as if ALL the students weren’t friends with EVERYone.  It was one big happy family, after all.  Millard had hung around with a few of the other tenors, and that group typically had a few sopranos (second sopranos, naturally; the first sopranos kept to themselves) that seemed happy to get to first base, but got quickly offended when a hand’s journey took itself to the upper slopes of a breast.  ‘So it goes’, Davis thought.  ‘Better that Millard gets frustrated in that pursuit than getting no answers from me’.

As they drove the last few miles to the high school, Davis mapped out his plan for the day.  He’d go home, dump his stuff, change into his self-prescribed uniform of shorts and flip-flops and go get some chips, roller meat, and a huge Coke from Casey’s.  It’d been long enough since he had freedom of movement without having to get approval from the choir director, or the bus driver, or one of the chaperones that constantly dogged their steps.  ‘Chicago can go screw.  I’m ready for some “me time”’ he silently pronounced.  Thumped his chest quietly as a tribute to himself.

“Uh, students, I need your attention for a minute.  Students?  Hey, students! Listen up,” said the choir director’s initially calm then strident voice.  “We have a problem.  There has, apparently, been some sort of citywide unrest that happened while we’ve been away.  I have NO idea what happened, all I know is that the bus is about to be stopped at a roadblock.  It looks like police or some kind of law enforcement officials are standing ready to get on the bus and see who is onboard.  Now, don’t worry, I will stop them from coming all the way on.  But please make sure you have shoes on and can produce some kind of ID if they ask.  I’m sure it’s nothing, but just to be on the safe side, just sit quietly while I and the bus driver go out and talk to them, ok?” she finished.

Dread crossed both Millard’s and Davis’s face.  How they found out so quickly is anyone’s guess.  Little did they know that the officials were after much bigger fish.  One little murder in Chicago was not even remotely on their radar.]

 

Posted by: Ken A Locke | November 17, 2016

On Becoming A Writer

“A beach comber has no idea what to look for the first day he steps onto the sand.”

“No one believes a comet is limning the heavens before ink is splashed.”

“The ponies have been let free to run.”

“A muscle exercised must first depart from atrophy.”

“If you can avoid writing to do something else, then do that.  If you can’t stop yourself from writing, then be a writer.”

All of these images sift through my mind as I think about what it means to “Become A Writer”.  So many books on the craft, all faithfully read and underlined.  Pages dog-eared, notes scribbled into my Moleskine journal.  So many master authors read, re-read, considered.  Thoughts about how many writers actually wear a cravat, or a beret, or talismanic jewelry, when they are at their folio.  Producing work.

Never have I had the luxury of this bemused pursuit of a craft.  I love my career’s history and the provision we enjoyed as a result.  (Read about my first career here and here) Now, though, I am able to, gently and persistently, remind myself that I am a ‘creative’ and that my day spent in writing and reading is, indeed, ‘mission-worthy’.  This free feeling is what I dreamed of and hoped for.  I recently spent an entire day at a conference of writers – the opening speaker referred to us as “an amazing group of creatives”.  My first anointing as such.

I’ve gotten to open an entire new set of maps to my world.  A fresh update to the topographical charts of a new mountain range.  Like when you say, ‘we should go there sometime’.  About the Grand Canyon, or either of the coastal Disney’s (how do you choose between a LAND and a WORLD?), or even those glaciers that are inaccessible on a casual drive-by but are an indelible set of images and memories once you finally get there.  From what I hear, we should get to those glaciers sooner rather than later.  So, too, these new vistas I glimpse on the skirt of my horizon.

Each day now, starting this November (the 2nd, because the 1st was a day of substitute teaching, bill-paying, and conversation with a warrior friend of mine), I have sat at one of my keyboards (ok, there are only two, but one of them is mobile – which means I can go sit in a field and imagine the journey across the Great Plains) and taken the time to write for several hours each day.  In part encouraged by the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing in a Month – or something like that), it has been a joy to get out this new muscle of mine.  I don’t promise anything better than drivel, but it feels GOOD.  It feels satisfying to clack away and have a new story to show for the day.

Have you ever had to prime a pump or start a gravity fed hose?  Our backyard water feature (too small to call a pond, too large to be a bucket) has a pump that occasionally gets clogged with leaves.  I have never had to suck on the outflow end to re-start the pump, but I have had to clonk the pump against the side or on a stone to get it to start moving water.  Hemingway’s best work produced in a rummy haze? Perhaps that was the liquid needed to prime the pump.

This very writing of mine is much like that pump.  It (I) have finally started moving water (ideas) and it looks like the mucky leaves, dead bugs, and seeds are starting to clear.

What runs now is fresh, clear water.  Excuse me while I go sample it.

Posted by: Ken A Locke | November 9, 2016

Strained, Yet Not Broken

Politicians – take the day off.  Now more than ever we need our creative genius to make sense of this.  We need painters, writers, musicians, dancers, storytellers – all artists to step forward.  Show us what we’ve done.  Tell us a story about who we are.    Court Musicians, sing us a song that binds us together and reminds us why we live next to each other.  Put a smile on our faces, give us a reason to hold another’s hand, show us how to stand tall.

This piece of music was written upon our entrance into the 2nd World War, and in homage to us, the little people.

Fanfare for the Common Man – Copland

“This was not judgement day – only morning.  Morning, excellent and fair.” William Styron, in Sophie’s Choice, a novel of the Holocaust.

This last line of the novel, as well as the last line of the movie, is spoken by Stingo, the young Southern gentleman in love with Sophie.  He had just found Sophie, the Polish immigrant, and Nathan, the Jewish manic-depressive, dead together in suicide.  And while it may have been “only morning” for the Southerner, I must point out that the other two characters in the story, an immigrant and a mental patient, did not feel safe enough to face another dawn.  THOSE two are who I want to feel safe.  We CAN do that.  WE can.  We must move forward, put down the dictionary of politics, and pick up the book that describes ‘loving others’.

We, the safe, MUST extend that safety to those in this country who are in fear today and in the coming days.   I am, through no fault of my own, one of the demographic that is least threatened by this win.  But, because I claim everyone as “my people”, MY PEOPLE need defending today.  I plead with you to rally as one group and support the Republic.  Everybody join in the circle.  Don’t cheer and don’t boo; just re-form.  Re-form so we all have a place in the circle.

It may very well be that we will only see the ‘benevolent dictator’, the ‘enlightened despot’, now that there is no longer a competition.  My hope is that the ‘king’ continues to live by our constitution rather than the whims that are so common with historical royalty. Larger than that, my hope is that we continue to value each other.  As family.

If there is a way to fix the budget, improve the trade deals, rebuild the infrastructure -WITHOUT DAMAGING people or their spirits – then I want that.  People are always more essential than things.  Lives are always more important than the checkbook.  Love is the biggest key to unity.

And a humble note of caution to my Jesus-believing friends, we have a LOT of loving to do and a LOT of judgmental gloating to stop.  Our days as servants should begin and end with grace.  There’s little need for judgment or pride or preening as a result of this election.  There is a massive need for grace, love, hope, inclusion.

My hope is that we see graciousness from every 2nd person in this country; that is, everyone who claims victory today.  That is ONE out of every TWO of us.  The OTHER of that two calls this a despairing defeat.   I also note that many who count themselves losers in this election are not ready to trust or rally or work together or believe.  That’s OK; please take the time you need.   (There will be plenty of time for political analysis – turn that off for now.)  I trust that ‘the collective we’ will hold the circle open for you.  Could we please wear our hearts on our sleeves and could we all honor that vulnerability?   Leave the next few days to hearts, minds, spirits.  Honor the tears you see on people’s faces, for that is the sign of sincerity in an age of freedom.

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” Abraham Lincoln, in his First Inaugural Address.

“We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead.” – Hillary Clinton, in her concession speech.

“We go forward with the presumption of good faith.  Now, we are all rooting for his success.”  President Obama, in remarks about the election.

“Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together.   I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me.” President-elect Trump, in his victory speech.

A word of thanks to all the Veterans who made this free election possible.  All of them have defended and will continue to defend your and my right to speak our mind and vote our conscience.  Thank you.  I have every confidence that every soldier in a uniform of the USA will defend each and every one of us.  Every single one.  Thank you.

You and I have assurances to speak – to our children, our neighbors, our detractors.  You and I have Americans to stand with – minorities, LGBTQ’s, those of other faiths, those of no faith, the poor, the rich, the well, the sick.

This is not rocket science.  At the end of the day, we stand together.

 

Since I have retired from my career in air traffic control for the FAA, I have started working as a substitute teacher.  Only part time, and only when I feel like it.  It isn’t my calling, but I truly enjoy it; kids are funny and amazing and heartbreaking and encouraging all at the same time.  One of the reasons I have so little worry about the future of our great nation is because I get to see these kids turn into the next generation of success.  Don’t bother me with “new” math or “teaching to the test” or “not enough money”for schools.  Those are all very real problems.  But I just watched a little kid who can’t tie his shoes log into a school’s website to complete homework and take a test.  The password wasn’t “password”, either.  Each kid has a unique ID and a different password for each device they are tasked to log into.  None of these kids had their passwords written on a sticky note, either.  Raise your hand if your passwords are all written down.  Yeah, me too.

Whenever I fill in for a teacher, a REAL teacher, I tell the class I only have two rules.  

  1. No tears
  2. No bloodshed

It’s usually pretty funny and lets them all drop their defenses because they know the “sub” is cool and won’t give them a hard time.  I tend to add a caveat about cell phones in the high school classes (“don’t make them a distraction and we will all pretend that you’ve left them put away the whole period”), which usually works.

I taught in an elementary school the other day.  The movie during the lunch period was “Monsters University”.  I hadn’t seen that before, but the 12 minutes I saw were great.  (Teachers get TWO pieces of pizza if you want, by the way). Pencils only get sharpened at the beginning of the day or at the end of the day.  But, as a substitute, I didn’t hear that rule until they ALL had to sharpen pencils in the MIDDLE of the day.  Big no-no, apparently.

Justice.  That makes sense to these kids.  If HE gets to sharpen his pencil (and how could I say no? His pencil clearly needed sharpening.  How can he learn letters if his pencil point is broken off?), then I should get to sharpen my pencil, too.  And so on, until everyone got a pencil sharpened.  My lyrical and cogent lecture on the critical reasons we must learn cursive may have gotten a bit diluted, shall we say, by the intermittent noise of the sharpener, but hey.  There is a price for excellence.

A few vignettes:  (I will change all the student names because they don’t need to be in the news just yet.)  Jacob poked approximately 60 holes in Daniel’s paper.  Daniel didn’t like that.  “Jacob, why did you poke holes in Daniel’s paper?”  “I don’t know.”  “Do you think you can apologize for that?”  “Sorry.”  “Can you say a whole sentence to apologize?”  “I am sorry.” (technically, a complete sentence.  But, then again, so is “Sorry.”)  “Can you say, ‘I am sorry for poking holes in your paper?'”  “I am sorry for poking holes in your paper.”  “Daniel, can you say thank you for apologizing?” “Thanks.”  I say, “Can we move forward now?”  They both nod in the affirmative.

Taten dropped the desktop on Kaitlyn’s fingers (did not know this yet).  Kaitlyn was crying (one of my 2 very simple rules!) “Kaitlyn, why are you crying?”  “Taten smashed my fingers in the desk,” she said with a hitch in her voice.  “Taten, did you do that?”  “Yes.”  “Why did you do that, Taten?”  “I don’t know.”  “Can you apologize for that?”  “Sorry.”  “Can you say a whole sentence for that?”  “I am sorry.”  Can you say, ‘I am sorry for slamming your fingers in the desk?'”  “I am sorry for slamming your fingers in the desk.”  “Kaitlyn, can you say thank you or ok to that?”  “It’s ok,” said Kaitlyn, tears gently beading down her cheeks.

Discipline is handled with clothespins.  Everyone starts at green (I think) and clips UP for being a good helper or example and clips DOWN for doing something against the rules.  Simple.  Except (and this is why so many of these kids will be good at debate or the legal profession) when one of them sees another doing something bad.  “Johnny took a drink out of someone else’s water bottle, can I move his clip down?”  “No, I don’t think you should move it because I didn’t see him do it.”  “Well, he did it.”  “Johnny, did you drink out of someone else’s water bottle?”  “No.”  “Missy says she saw you do that.  Are you telling me the truth?  Because lying about it is worse than actually drinking out of someone else’s bottle.”  I can see him gauging his response.  “Yes, I did drink out of the bottle.”  “Why did you drink out of that bottle?”  “I was thirsty.”  “Why didn’t you just ask to go get a drink?”  “I don’t know.”  “Do you think your teacher would have you clip down if you did that?”  “Probably.”  “OK, then you better clip down one.”

And, all of a sudden, I am judge and jury over a very kind-hearted, loving, energetic elementary student.  What if this is the start of a long string of crime and misbehavior?  What if he ends up in “Juvie” because I made him clip down for that behavior?  What if he moves out of his house and lives under a bridge when he’s older because of me? What if the teacher returns the next day and sees he has clipped down, asks him about it, and then he is in trouble forever because he didn’t behave for the sub???  It’s a lot of pressure – especially for a peacemaker/golden retriever like me.

All of this happened before 11 am.  I’d been there less than 3 hours.  I had 5 to go.  I was exhausted.

These students know these rules inside and out.  Occasionally, I will take time to have students explain to me what, exactly, the rules are.  We always raise our hand to speak, by the way.  A rule which I LOVE, and one that I can enforce with little worry of future criminal record.  Also, we take questions in the order that the hands went up.  Ocassionally I resort to ‘whoever is the quietest person sitting at their desk’.  (Except that has danger, too, because so MANY immediately get quiet so they can get called on and then are crestfallen when I don’t call on them and am I being fair and have I called on an equal number of boys and girls and have I ignored anyone and is the teacher’s pet getting away with something always having me call on her?)  Unless it is a bathroom emergency.  Then that student gets relief from the court.  (I know you see what I said there.)  

Clip ups lead to stamps on a card at the end of the day.  Purple means two stamps and blue means just one stamp.  The card is like a “frequent coffee” card.  You know, 10 stamps and then you get to pick a prize (at least I think that is the reward) from the teacher’s stash.  “No, you can’t pick a prize today because I don’t know where she keeps the prizes and she didn’t leave me a note about that.”  Crestfallen.  A grim acceptance of a darkened world because their normal teacher isn’t here.

A word about popsicle sticks.  Each student has one.  This is true for almost every elementary class I’ve taught.  Usually the sticks have a number corresponding to the student.  You’ve got to look at the name tag taped to their desk to find out which number stands for which student.  Sometimes you use the popsicle sticks to pick what lunch you want that day (lunch menu located on the school website; have a student help you find that web page).  Sometimes we use the sticks for the order in which we line up to go to lunch.  Or gym (actually, “PE”, not “gym”) (I’m not sure why we don’t call it “gym” anymore).  Or recess.

Encore recess is in the afternoon.  It is a privilege and not a right.  If you have school work left to do, you need to stay in during “Encore” and finish that work.  If you’ve clipped down, you have to walk a lap for each level you clipped down.  At which point, you must tell the teacher how you will do better in the future. “I promise I won’t poke holes in anyone’s paper because I know it’s wrong”.   My role is to look somber and encouraging and thank them for saying that, “Now go have a good time for the rest of recess”.  They scamper off.

One last funny thing – we take “restroom”breaks.  On the way to and from recess, music, or gym (sorry, PE) we stop at the toilets/sinks/water fountains.  A fantastic plan; everyone deserves physical comfort.  What’s FUNNY about it is the kids who go straight to the “after you are done, line up here” spot.  “You don’t need to go to the bathroom?”  Snickers ensue.  “What?”  “Use the RESTROOM, not the BATHROOM!”  “Oh, OK.  None of you needs to use the restroom?”  “No.”  And, those of you who have seen this know what’s coming when we all get back to the classroom…

“Teacher, can I go to the restroom/ get a drink?”  “Of course, will you come right back?”  “Yes.”  And off they go.  I smile.  They’ve got the system down.

Please hear me well now.  The reason I love spending time as a substitute teacher is because I see EVERY DAY the resilience of the human spirit.  I see these kids EVERY DAY work through difficult scholastic problems.  I see them negotiate with their friends and with their small group partners and with their teachers how to solve each and every problem they face.

They are SO persistent in their pursuit of understanding, knowledge, teamwork.  I cannot praise the REAL teachers enough about how successful they are in LOVING these students.  These students have bought in to their education because these fantastic teachers CARE and LOVE and EXPECT and AFFIRM.  Social contracts, written between teachers and classmates in order to lay ground rules, are all over the place.  And they WORK.  Bravo to the minds and hearts who instituted this.

Daniel and Jacob had a disagreement.  Now they don’t.  It is over and they move forward together.  Kaitlyn and Taten had a disagreement.  Now they don’t.  It is over.  Missy and Johnny had a disagreement.  It is over.

No grudges.  Just teammates.

We are going to be just fine.

Posted by: Ken A Locke | October 25, 2016

Defenseless

I had the pleasure of helping with Convoy of Hope this past summer, and I was inspired to do so by my very own daughter, Cassidy.  The church she attends was and still is the host church in Wichita for Convoy of Hope.  They have a strong youth group and their eagerness to pitch in is heartening.  Read Cassidy’s take right here: Cassidy’s Blog.
Convoy of Hope is a national mission that is carried out locally.  It reaches families who are preparing their children for school and need a boost.  It generally coincides with the beginning of a school year and attempts to provide school supplies, shoes, food, haircuts, job-finding assistance to both the children and the parents.  Dignity and grace suffuse the day – because everyone deserves dignity and love.  We thank THEM for coming to bless us.
In the pre-dawn hours of that day, I rode with Cassidy to the church grounds upon which the Convoy of Hope would take place.  Many pavilion-sized tents had been set up, a sound stage had been set up, bathrooms had been placed, pallets of foodstuffs had been arranged for dispersal.  It was probably at least 10 acres in use for all of this.  The organizers expected 10,000 people to visit.  What they didn’t expect was severe weather to strike right at the time they wanted to put the final touches on it all.  It all happened, it was just delayed about an hour.

The volunteer start times had already been set, though,  so it was early, around 6 am, when we arrived in a downpour.  Heavy rain lashed the tents.  Classic Great Plains thunderstorms energetically bragged right over us as we walked to the volunteer gathering spot.  We decided to walk on over to the spot rather than stay in the car to wait out the storm because the radar indicated 45 minutes or so of this level of weather.  I am still not convinced it was a smart move, but it doesn’t matter now, we turned out fine.  There was not one weather-related injury this day, for the record.  It’s very hard to say if that is coincidence or mercy.

Cassidy and I shared my umbrella as we walked.  We walked for between 5 and 10 minutes to get to the right place, and all the while lightning crackled all around us.  Heavy rain battered my “Amsterdam” umbrella (I actually bought it in Amsterdam for 10 Euros from a cart on the street – it was raining and we needed to stay dry).  Of course my shoes were immediately wet as were the bottoms of my pants.  Cassidy wore rain boots.  In order to fit under the umbrella, I put my right arm tightly over her shoulder, and clutched the umbrella in my left hand.  We walked with a determined stride, but it was peaceful; not afraid or desperate or worried.  Lightning split a tree about 400 yards away.  It sounded as if the sky ripped.  Like canvas rips – heavy.  I wonder if the temple veil sounded like that when torn in two?

Have you ever come upon a wild animal that hasn’t noticed your presence? An animal that continues to sip at a brook, or nibble at a leaf, or peck at a bush?  Think, now, of how you act in that moment of discovery.  It turns quickly into a game of ‘freeze tag’.  Don’t move, don’t inhale or exhale sharply, do NOT make eye contact.  Observe through semi-slitted eyes, open wide enough to record, but not so wide as to reflect light and startle your subject.  Your senses go into hyperdrive so as to remember everything about it; to not miss a thing.  Aerosmith, anyone?

My time with Cassidy was like that.  In fact, Angie and I catch ourselves glancing at each other more and more often as we watch our kids do the amazing things that make them special to the world and to us.  (We always chuckle later about “catching them in their natural habitat”, and say “Don’t make eye contact!!”)  I was walking right next to my daughter with my arm around her – we were bonding!  I didn’t dare say anything, lest we get self-conscious and step apart.  I pretended it was merely for the practicality of the weather that we were pulled so close.  She knew.  We both played it cool, but we knew.  We will always have that morning.

Being in the middle of that thunderstorm also helped me understand the meaning of “the aegis of God”, or the ‘cloak of protection’ He puts around us.  What the Bible says about judgment, “God dispenses or withholds His justice at His pleasure”.  We have zero say in the matter.  That day, God’s mighty lightning struck where it would, and we were merely bits of protoplasm existing within the confines of this physical earth.  I found myself comforted once I realized that I was powerless to control what happened with the lightning.  Yes, I prayed for safe passage.  Perhaps it was granted, but perhaps it was mere meteorology, too.  It is very hard to say.  The lesson was more than ‘the rain falls on the just and the unjust’, even though that truth was also on display.

As time passes, I realize more and more that the display contained both His grandeur (in the storm) and His intimate love (to pass peace to me and my little-tiny-baby-daughter-who-is-somehow-a-grown-woman-now).

Priceless moments.  Holy moments.

Older Posts »

Categories