Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Sustainable Spirituality: Thoughts on the 7th Principle

This sermon was presented on 28 December, 2014, by Ashley Hummel

Reading 1: Stuff from the Internet
It’s pretty amazing that our society has reached a point where the effort necessary to extract oil from the ground, ship it to a refinery, turn it in to plastic, shape it appropriately, truck it to a store, buy it, and bring it home is considered to be less effort than what it takes to just wash the spoon and be done with it.

Wisdom understands that in a world of ecological connectedness, there is no such thing as “away.” We don’t throw things “away,” we simply put them someplace where they defile the land, foul, the water, pollute the air, or change the earth’s atmosphere.

Reading 2: From In Praise of Weeds by Peter Friedrich

Pity the poor dandelion.  It is, in many ways, nature’s perfect plant.  With a tap root that grows more than a foot long, it can survive in climates of scorching heat and bitter cold.  Its tender, young greens make a tasty addition to any salad, or they can be boiled like fiddleheads or as a tea infusion.  The dandelion’s leaves contain more beta-carotene than carrots and more iron than spinach.  Its blossoms, when properly fermented, perhaps with a bit of orange or lemon, make a sweet white wine.  That tap root contains medicinal properties, and can be beneficial to both the liver and the kidneys as both a diuretic and blood cleanser.  It can also be dried, roasted and ground as a coffee substitute.  The flower’s white, milky sap can be used to alleviate bee stings and to remove calluses and moles.  And then there is the dandelion’s ingenious method of reproduction.  That beautiful yellow bloom is actually a composite of hundreds of tiny blossoms that mature into the familiar white globe of seeds.  Unlike most other seeds, dandelion seeds can germinate without a period of dormancy, and the plant is self-pollinating.  Each plant contains hundreds of parachute-like seeds that, to the delight of toddlers everywhere, who pluck and blow them apart, can be carried effortlessly on the wind for miles and miles.  Yes, the dandelion is perhaps nature’s perfect plant.

Yet, plunk a dandelion down in the middle of a manicured Main Line lawn and it is treated like a terrorist.
What, then, makes a weed?  Is a weed a weed just because we call it that?  Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Saint Ralph” to we Unitarian Universalists, once said that a weed is simply a plant whose virtues we haven’t yet discovered.  But I don’t think that’s quite right.  Long ago we discovered the virtues of the dandelion and the loosestrife, yet they are a public menace.  And the pachysandra, with no particular virtue other than its persistence in growing low and slow in shady areas, is spared this label.  In his book Second Nature, author and gardener Michael Pollan describes the strict hierarchy of plants, where the top spaces are occupied by what he calls the “hypercivilized hybrids” like roses, and the bottom tier is infested with the weeds, which he calls “the plant world’s proletariat, furiously reproducing and threatening to usurp the position of their more refined horticultural betters.”  Weediness, he tells us, is determined by several factors, including how highly hybridized a plant is (the more refined and cultured, the better), the ease or difficulty of growing it (the hearty and easily adaptable larkspur is more “weedy” than, say, a fragile, delicate orchid), and, finally, its color.   (White, of course, is at the top.)  Pollan goes on to tell us that there are two primary schools of thought when it comes to weeds.  The first holds that “a weed is any plant in the wrong place” and the other defines a weed to be “any aggressive plant that competes successfully against cultivated plants.”  “The metaphysical problem of weeds,” he writes, “is not unlike the metaphysical problem of evil:  Is it an abiding property of the universe, or an invention of humanity?”

Sermon: Sustainable Spirituality: Thoughts on the 7th Principle

When we first discussed in committee the idea of a seven principles series, I said, “Oh, oh, what’s the one about the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part?! I want to do that one!” I began looking into it and found so much wonderful information, so many amazing sermons, and I don’t think that I can cover everything I want to talk about. 

I’ll start with my interest in this principle. The seven principles are a how-to-be-a-good-person guide. With or without a belief in a sentient deity, we can rely on these principles to keep us steady in a sea of moral relativism and ambiguity. In my own attempt to eliminate “right” and “wrong” as labels for behavior, I see the principles as a map to appropriate behavior in complicated situations. The seventh principle, though, is more. Many religious groups promote environmentalism, but we have it written into the closest thing to dogma we have. The seventh principle makes me comfortable here. As a pantheist, I am used to weird stares when I get too earthy. People say, “Are you like a hippie or something? Do you smoke weed?” Being able to come here and express that my god is the earth and everything in it, being validated by people around me who may call something else god, but still understand and share my affection for nature, those things make this my home. 

My pantheism is a bit backwards when compared to other religious traditions. In most religions, God takes care of us. In my spiritual path, we take care of God, and God takes care of God. You could also say that God takes care of us, but it’s not an ask-and-receive relationship. It’s more like a, “Here’s a bunch of plants to eat and water to drink, don’t screw it up,” relationship. 

I don’t believe we have dominion over the earth, and, this offends some people, I don’t think we’re superior to any living creature. In fact, I find most living creatures are better people than we are. We just happen to be at the top of the food chain and have dominance at this time in Earth’s history. We have the power of creative problem solving and opposable thumbs, so I believe that we have the responsibility of stewardship, but we are still animals, not distinguishable from nature except that we produce luxuries and cook our food. We have a burden of responsibility that other animals, to my knowledge, don’t share. That being said, I want to touch on a few different points. 

The first is food. I love food. Preparing and eating food can be a spiritual exercise. Growing food can be a spiritual exercise. And, though some would disagree with me, slaughtering food can be a spiritual exercise. 

To explain a little: I have always been aware of where my food comes from. My dad’s family hunts, my mom’s family fishes, and no one was remotely concerned with shielding me from the truth of where dinner came from. I must have been six or seven when my dad took me outside to show me three plucked ducks in the back of his truck (say that three times fast). They weren’t completely cleaned yet; they still had heads and feet. My dad had me take the neck of one and roll it between my fingers. There was a lump, rather hard and round. Dad said that it was the duck’s breakfast—probably an acorn. The duck had breakfast, and we had dinner, and the wheel goes round. By the way, if anyone would like a lesson on the finer points of butchery, I’ll be happy to share my knowledge. 

For the first part of my life, it did not even occur to me that there was a meat industry. We did buy meat at the store sometimes. Beef, chicken, shrimp, and other things there’s not a hunting season for. My dad hunts on family land, where some of the relatives also raise cattle. The cattle roam free and at some point are taking for processing and sale, and I always thought it was like that everywhere. I thought all the meat from the store came from little smoke houses like the one my dad took his deer to. It didn’t occur to me that food came from factories until I started buying my own and heard about the evils of Tyson and antibiotics and corn-feed. Now, with the concerns regarding climate change, we are starting to see data on the greenhouse gas output and fossil fuel usage of modern agricultural industries.

Most of what I found on ethical eating focuses solely on a vegan lifestyle, because cattle cost more in fossil fuels to raise. There are also a lot of vegans who don’t eat meat because they detest the the brutality of the meat industry. These are valid concerns, but it is impossible to turn the world vegan as a solution. Some people, myself included, not only don’t want to be vegan, but actually can’t. In this matter, I see our dependence on environmentally damaging agricultural methods as the problem, not our food choices. The process is what we should lobby to change.  The solution that I hear most often is to vote with your dollar. This is good, but we should also remember that many people can’t afford to, and those people are also a part of our interdependent web. Grass fed beef is expensive, free range eggs cost about two dollars more than other eggs, and organic is even pricier. How can we promote the purchase of better food choices when the income gap keeps getting wider? (hint, hint, let’s regulate!) Extolling the virtues of voting with your dollar is, it seems to me, just one more way of shaming the poor. 

It is important to be conscious of where your food is coming from in a larger sense, too. How far did your oranges travel to get to your table? In the store I see California and Florida oranges—why? We can and do grow citrus right here in the valley! It takes a lot of gasoline to drive or fly from California to the valley. Buying local not only helps local farms, but reduces the fuel cost of your produce. There is also the option of growing your own food. I recommend gardening for both practical and spiritual reasons. 

I garden the pagan way. That is to say, I interact with my garden beyond just sowing and reaping. Most of the time I go out barefoot and dig in the dirt, planting and transplanting without using gloves. I feel instinctually connected to my garden and the creatures in it. I take time to admire the creatures and try to be considerate that my garden is also their home. The grub worms, bees, and spiders all have their purpose in the world, and when they take residence in a place that is also mine, I feel that I have done something right. I try to be welcoming.  I’ve even taken great strides in accepting the one bug that terrifies me, though I hope never to see it. I am aware that things live under the garden, and I am aware that this is their place. In the garden my phobia is somewhat less severe. 

In gardening, as in many things, we humans tend to be outraged by the presence of things we didn’t plan for: insects, weeds. I used to work in a tea shop that sold iron tea pots from Asia. They sold little matching saucers shaped like leaves and some of these leaf-saucers had holes in them. It was interesting to see customers admire the leaves and, one after the other, they all rejected the leaves with holes in them. My boss, a Chinese woman named Mei, explained that in her culture, holes in the leaves signify health, because bugs only want to eat healthy plants. In my own experience—particularly with affluent white Americans—we see just the opposite. A leaf with holes in it means there is an invader and we must immediately douse the poor, victimized plant with pesticides lest our entire garden be overrun by hungry caterpillars! How did we get to that state of mind? What drives this need to control? I learned an important lesson recently when a hungry caterpillar ate every single leaf of my spearmint plant: stuff grows back. The world has had five major extinction events, but stuff keeps growing back. Nature is truly a wonder. 

When my seeds sprout, I marvel in their growth each day, and when it’s time to harvest I practice active gratitude. In most pagan traditions, it is customary to ask the spirit of a plant before you harvest anything, and to thank it once you’re finished. Even if you do not believe the trees have spirits, this is an important meditative practice. We do not need to direct gratitude towards anything mystical in order for it to be beneficial. If you have a garden, try this the next time you harvest something. Sit in front of the plant a while if it is low to the ground. Inspect it: where are the cuttings you desire, are there new buds sprouting, is anything living there that you don’t want to disturb? Observe not just the fruit, but the whole plant, and the system that helps it produce. Smell the earth, hear the birds, feel the sun and the wind. As you cut what you need, keep all this in your mind. Enjoy the harvest as a ritual instead of a duty. 

Also, make room in your garden, and maybe in your heart, for weeds. 

I wanted to talk about climate change, but I am hardly an expert, so I will refer you to Shirley and her climate change reading group that meets every other Thursday. I don’t attend this group myself, because of a hectic class schedule, which brings me to my final point: what you can do to live a greener life without breaking. 

Are you busy? Do you have responsibilities? Do you occasionally ignore reality to cope with not being able to solve all the world’s problems? Well, friends, today is your lucky day! I have a reverse offering for you! In this basket are green cards (click here for download). Each card has a tip for green living. Take one and try it out. By making just one change at a time, we can feel good about our progress without becoming overwhelmed. If you find the tip works, pass it on to others. 

While the basket goes round, here is my other advice:

If you can afford to, vote with your dollar. If you can’t, try to spend ten dollars of your grocery budget on locally sourced produce. If you don’t make your own cleaners, purchase environmentally responsible products such as Seventh Generation. Help others become environmentally conscious by giving the gift of cute, reusable shoppingbags for birthdays and holidays. If you don’t have space for a full garden, plant a window box of herbs. For a more intimate connection to your food, you can place it on the dinner table and invite guests to pick their own seasonings. Hang a birdhouse or feeder in your yard, or make a toad home in the garden, or a feral cat shelter

Learn about recycling programs at local stores. Office Depot has an ink and toner recycling program, Wal-Mart and HEB have plastic bag recycling programs, Staples, Lowes, and Best Buy all have battery recycling programs, and Staples will also recycle any electronic item. By being aware of these programs, we can reduce our waste output without going out of our way, and again, we can inform others of the options available. 

It is unreasonable to expect everyone to be green in every area of life, and that is ok. We can still be aware. Awareness will help us make better choices and limit our bad choices. For example, I use paper plates during the school semester because I value my sanity, but during the breaks I go back to real plates because I have the time and the energy to wash them. It is more important not to burn out on environmentalism than it is to be perfect. Respect the web, but remember that you are also a part of it and respect your need for sustenance and growth. Start small, like a seed, and we will grow a healthier world. 

I would like to close with the Beatitudes forEarth Sunday by Richard S. Gilbert

Blessed are the heavens,
for they declare the power of creation.
Blessed is the earth, our beloved home,
for she is a planet of plenitude.

Blessed are the waters thereon,
for they gave rise to living things.
Blessed is the land,
for it is the source of life abundant.

Blessed is the air we breathe,
for it fires us to life and love.
Blessed are the beasts of the field,
for they are glorious to behold.

Blessed are the birds of the air,
for they carve a graceful arc in the sky.
Blessed are the mountains and the seas and the valleys,
for their variety makes rich our habitat.

Blessed are the fields of grain, the orchards of fruit,
for they give sustenance, asking nothing in return.
Blessed are the dwellers on earth,
for they cherish the privilege of living upon it.

Blessed are they who protect the earth and all her creatures,
from the plants of the field to the trees of the forest,
for their reward shall be harmony with the web of existence.
Rejoice, and be glad,
for the earth and her people are one.


Friday, December 12, 2014

December 7, 1941, A Memoir

This sermon was presented on 7 December, 2014, by Shirley Rickett.


“Pearl Harbor was presented to the American public as a sudden, shocking, immoral act.  Immoral it was, like any bombing—but not sudden or shocking to the American government

So long as Japan remained a well-behaved member of that imperial club of Great Powers who—in keeping with the Open Door Policy—were sharing the exploitation of China, the United States did not object.  It had exchanged notes with Japan in 1917 saying “the Government of the United States recognizes that Japan has special interest in China.”  In 1928, according to Akira Iriye (After Imperialism), American consuls in China supported the coming of Japanese troops.  It was when Japan threatened potential U.S. markets by its attempted takeover of China, but especially as it moved toward the tin, rubber, and oil of Southeast Asia, that the United States became alarmed and took those measures which led to the Japanese attack:  a total embargo on scrap iron, a total embargo on oil in the summer of 1941.”

From A People’s History of the United States, 1492—Present, Howard Zinn, pgs. 410,411.

Sermon:  December 7, 1941, A Memoir
by Shirley Rickett

Memory is an elusive spell, especially the ones attached to childhood.  Sometimes we clutch at a vivid memory, so clear and precise it becomes lived again.  And sometimes we can only grasp for scenes, words, colors, the dress we wore, the shirt we had on, as we look to regain the essence of some experience. On December 7, 1941,  I was seven years, 4 months old.

I don’t remember the actual radio address by President Roosevelt when he asked Congress to declare war on Japan.  I do remember marching around the backyard the spring of 1942 with a parade of neighbor kids.  The leader was singing, a popular patriotic song, “Let’s remember Pearl Harbor, and go on to vic-to-ree.”  I was all for patriotism but didn’t have a clue what Pearl Harbor meant. “Please,”  I asked politely of the firebrand leader, “What did Pearl die of?”

My Uncle John, the closest relative to a grandfather for the early years of my life, was said to have fought in World War I.  He was my father’s mentor, and one time, he held out an oval buckle, silver.

 “It says something in German here,” he said.  “Translated it means ‘In God we trust.’ Can you believe that?  They believed in God.”

 He produced a German Luger, a handgun which made me recoil.  My father was excited to hold and examine it.  “And you took these off the body of a dead German soldier.”  My father was creating the battlefield, the smell of smoke and my uncle bending over a body. My uncle nodded.

 “A dead man?  You took this from a dead man?” I was aghast.

“Well, yes.  It was war, you see.  Kill or be killed.  You didn’t have time to shake hands first and ask after the family.” The adults continued talking.  It was decided that, well, maybe they (the Germans) really did believe in God.

Late at night, past my bedtime:  But I had a habit of sneaking out of bed to listen to adult conversation. I wanted to know what the people I loved had to say after the bath, after the good-night kisses, after the nightly prayer in which I tried to remember everyone in my life. My father, my uncle, a neighbor or two were talking about the new war.  The women were present but didn’t say much.

“What happens if we don’t hold back the Germans and the Japs?  Do you think it would come to an invasion here, on our shores?”  Then my father’s voice:  “I would take care of my family and then myself if they were to invade us.  I would rather see us all dead than live under them.”
I was chilled to my bones as the realization crept into my skin that my father was talking about killing his family and himself.

The war effort went into full swing faster than anyone could have imagined.  America had been in a mode of isolationism.  Germany was quite busy invading surrounding countries, rounding up Jews and building concentration camps by 1941.  Great Britain was attacked by Germany, and we were still not in it.  Even after the disastrous attack on what little Navy we had, there were still challenges in getting the groaning machine of a nation at peace to one in at war.  Finally in 1942, after weathering increasing criticism, President Roosevelt established the War Production Board (WPB) with real power to control and coordinate the national economy for the war effort.  Automobile plants had been operating at 50 per cent.  Through a wide range of incentives for producing war goods and converting factories to an all-out mobilization, FDR moved forward.  Soon items like refrigerators, bicycles, and waffle irons became largely out of production for the duration of the war.  Automobile plants were converted to the production of jeeps, airplanes, tanks, and guns.  Never before had our nation been so unified.  From families, and youths, down to elementary school age children, a complete sense of purpose was formed and felt.

In the spring of 1941, FDR created the Office of Civilian Defense. The goal was to channel the efforts of Americans on the home front into needed work ranging from conducting air raid drills to salvaging scrap metal.  Pearl Harbor had brought the possibility of invasion more clearly to the imagination of Americans.

In our neighborhood, the Northeast part of Kansas City, there was a large plant.  At one time, when I was around 3, it had been a retail warehouse.  My uncle John took me there to shop and bought for me a pair of patent leather shoes. 

 Now it was 1942, and that old building came alive as a defense plant.  My mother went to work there.  It was a job outside the home many women took on as men and boys were drafted or enlisted.  Young guys 16 and 17 lied about their age and when found out, worked on their parents until they signed for them. At that time, there was no 8th grade, and high school graduates were young as 16, and many went from receiving a diploma to enlist.

It was also the beginning of a consciousness raising among women that culminated for some in finding themselves in the fifties, still in the kitchen making coffee during the civil rights movement, instead of being part of the decision-making. After working at jobs men used to do, and being an integral part of the war effort, women had had a taste of participation in a war economy.  They had taken off their aprons and now there was no going back.  

The classification, 4F  was the only deferment for men, or if a man was married, he was further down the list.  If married with children, at the bottom of the list with the draft board in the beginning.  Later on, married men with families were needed.

One of the best films ever produced that depicted what happened to military men and women and those on the homefront post- WW II is The Best Years of Our Lives.  Better by far than Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation.

“Vee,” (my mother’s nickname) “did you know that Carlas missed work again today?  That’s two days this week.”  My aunt who worked at the defense plant with my mother was upset.

“I know,” my mother said quietly.  Carlas was my cousin and half the neighborhood worked at the defense plant.  “And I heard a guy at work the other day, who gave a pep talk to our division.”  My aunt was bristling.  “He pointed out how missing a day of work leads to lowered production, which can actually mean the death of a soldier or a soldier short of a parachute.  I don’t see why he can’t understand that.” 

“I know,” said my mother.

At school we were encouraged to bring tin foil, from cigarette packages, candy and gum wrappers,  twine in a ball, string, and any salvaged metal we could find.  To buy a US Treasury bond was the ultimate investment in our future.  Later in the forties, butter, coffee, bananas, tea, red, meat, and gasoline were rationed.  You got a book with ration stamps in it.  You could get your allotment if you could find what you wanted, and then you were done for a stated amount of time.

At the Stover Lane Studio of the dance, I learned patriotic songs and dances.  On the wall in the outer office, a poster or two were plastered for us to see at every lesson.  “Loose talk sinks ships” spoke one.

 “ And what does your Daddy do?”  A teenage girl had cozied up to me. I was puzzled by her interest.   
“He works in a defense plant.”
“And what does he do in the defense plant?”
“He guards it.  He wears a uniform and he carries a gun.”
“Really!  And what’s the name of the defense plant?”
“Well, it used to be Buick-Oldsmobile-Pontiac, but now it’s a defense plant.  He worked for plant protection before the war and now he’s a guard.”

She drew herself up to her full height.  I was really short at 9. 
“Do you see that poster over there?”   She stabbed the air with her finger. “Loose talk is just what you have let loose to me.”
“Are you a spy?”  I was not the least bit sarcastic.  Just curious.
“What if someone who WAS a spy asked you those questions and you gave out all of that information?  Don’t you know that could lead saboteurs to your dad?”

 Suddenly I saw my dad knocked out and his keys taken from him.  No, he pulled a gun on the saboteurs and they got it away from him and then tortured him until he told them how the guns were made and where the airplanes were.  I must have looked horrified because my inquisitor softened and told me it was OK, but that I should remember loose lips, sink ships.

Americans didn’t have to experience firebombing like London did.  Goerring and his Luftwaffe came up with firebombs that melted asphalt pavement along with anything else they hit.  People would get their feet stuck in the hot melting pavement if they survived the actual bomb.  We heard about suffering we could only imagine.  Rationing in this country was an inconvenience compared to the deprivations of the British people.  It was either through school or community that we sent tins of foodstuffs and blankets and anything to brighten their days.

My uncle, my mother’s brother either enlisted or was drafted.  He lived in Kentucky. After boot camp, (a scant six weeks) we all piled into cars and went to Kentucky to see him before he left for his first assignment overseas.  He had leave, and maybe his last for a long while.  We brought his tearful new bride home with us and my dad found her an apartment and a job.  Then another uncle, youngest of nine from my mother’s family, enlisted in the marines.  And cousin Carlas joined the Air Force. That meant we could hang three little flags each with a blue star in our windows at home. If your loved one in the armed forces died, you hung a gold star in the window.

The war was not going very well for Americans.  By 1943 we were at war with Japan, Germany, and Italy.  Tojo, (Emperor Hirohito) and Hitler, and Mussolini were termed the evil Axis.  They had joined forces against the West, against us, against America.  We were building a Navy, an Air Force, an Army, almost from scratch while our enemies had been mobilizing for war for years.  Neighbors began to report where their sons and daughters were, vague indications like he’s somewhere in Africa, she’s headed for the Pacific. 

In the Pacific, we heard of one island after another that fell to the Japanese after bitter battles and great losses.  I learned the names of foreign places I hadn’t known existed.  Just the sound of some of the names of places that “fell,” left me with a solid weight in my chest … Corregidor, Guam, Iwo Jima, Sumatra … as we listened to news on radio and in the movie newsreels after the feature film. In the movie houses, when the Americans scored a victory, people cheered and clapped.  Men and women, but mostly men in uniform were everywhere. In Union Station, on buses, in the movie houses, walking down the street, at USO dances.  People smiled and greeted them.  Kids, my dad would say.  They’re just kids.

Around the corner from the shoe repair shop where my father worked sometimes 12 hours a day, was what we called the local hamburger joint.  My dad would take me there for lunch sometimes and I would squeak the round stools in front of the counter by turning them as fast as possible, one after another.  I was strongly encouraged to stop.  Leonard would always tease me by quoting Wimpy from the funny papers.  “If you’ll give me a hamburger today, I will pay you on Tuesday.”  Is that what you want, he would ask me while he slyly slipped me a burger.

One day my aunt and I went by there to see Hattie and Leonard, the owners. My aunt was grim because she had heard some terrible news.  We entered and I headed for the stools but stopped when I saw Hattie slumped in a booth. I had never seen her sitting down in their place of business.  Leonard was behind the counter looking gray. There were only a couple of customers in the place.  They had gotten the dreaded telegram. Their son had died at Anzio in Italy. My aunt tried some words of comfort, then we left to report to my parents.  I had never known such sadness in my short life.

It was the movies that helped me survive the war the most.  Film after film about fifth columnists, saboteurs, spies, and combat, lots of combat.  Sometimes we won and sometimes we lost.  But we always knew we would come back and win.  But most of all, I could fall in love with the wives and daughters on the homefront in England and America, and experience the grip of the war, or the explosion of a bomb, and in Great Britain, Greer Garson walking into her kitchen to find a German soldier looking for food.

Tom Brokow called the people of that time, “The Greatest Generation.”  It did seem like a justified war.   We were defending ourselves.  We had been attacked.  But war is war.  Now we fight impersonal wars with computers and drones.  More troops dispatched to Iraq, to wherever, and we are shielded from the blood, the mangled bodies, the dead children, the grieving families, and our fallen coming home. We isolate ourselves with tv, and jobs, and i-pads and phones.  Distance.  So often we know little of our neighbors, where they work, how they struggle, what they dream.  Sound bite news and Facebook entries, keep us in touch, we say.

In my childhood neighborhood, I encountered racism, brotherhood, customs, traditions, family life different from mine, and I knew everyone, every small business owner like my dad. I knew them and their children by name.  We went to school together, we played together, and our parents knew one another.  Our corner business area was like a family of small business owners. Our parents were a little suspicious of chains like Milgram’s or Katz drug store although many of our friends and neighbors worked there.  I miss that warm sense of community.  Sometimes I long for it, and the teachers who were a force in my life, who really knew me and even visited  my house at my request. 

I know that many of the movies were propaganda.  But I also know of a man I met through my teacher union, NEA.  He was Italian and during WW II, the fascists took over the schools and proceeded to literally brainwash students.  He said it took him years to understand what had happened to him.  The process was a slow, creeping paralysis and now he was a leader in our education association. His specialized area was grievances.

I’d like to close with a couple of poems on some of the subjects covered here.

For these two short poems, imagine that you are in an art gallery viewing and experiencing paintings.

                  Eternal People

                                    Often the smaller paintings hold them
                                    as they stand in coarse muslin
                                    and old shoes near a bowl of fruit.

                                    They bear the look of those accustomed       
to sun, to the purpose of the day,
                                    and the eyes hold you

                                    in a spell of constancy, a fullness ripe
as pears in the bowl, the dim lit room. 

If you look away they will go back
                                    to what they were doing.

*First appeared in Antietam Review.

          “Eyes Wide Open”

The name of a national exhibit of boots from dead soldiers who served in Iraq
that soon became confined to state exhibits due to increasing numbers.

We arrive at the park early and wait for the van with boots.
They come in plastic bins, boys’ boots, men’s boots
with tags, names alphabetical, then town and state.
Some bear daisies or sunflowers stuck inside

that bump against the leather..
Letters and poems dangle from laces.
I read one dead man’s thoughts, his life in Iraq,
his daily agony, his hopes and fears, stare at

the photo of him in fatigues kissing his baby.
Where sorrow and grief live and resist,
more must  be endured.  We set out the boots,
measure with yardsticks one yard apart both ways,

but the boots are different sizes like unruly boys.    
Bend, measure, place, adjust.  Order—we must have it
in death if not in life.  Our director repeats the exhibit
in towns all over the state:  The rows must be precise.

She struggles with angles, with volunteers.
Just eyeball it she tells me after we shift a row
for the fourth time, after we all join her angst
to get it right, get this one honor right.

The soldiers stand at attention, ancient and worn
with eyes wide open, blinded by history and war.
The rows of boots tremble in a  triangle on the green.
Next to them a jazz band unloads at the outdoor stage. 

“Eternal People,” and “’Waiting’”  from Dinner in Oslo, Shirley Rickett, Aardvark Global Publishing, 2008.