Category Archives: Causes and Friends

Memorial Day 2016

On thy grave the rain shall fall from the eyes of a mighty nation!

Thomas William Parsons

A dismal day for parades and celebrations, but perhaps in another way ironically appropriate. Certainly those we remember faced far greater difficulties than we do as we face this day. Let us remember…

Memorial Day

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Paying It Backward, part two

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“Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape your future.”   (Robert Schuller)

When I wrote Paying It Backward , I’m not sure I really expected some of the results I’ve experienced. Of course my hope was two-fold. First, I hoped that some descendants of a man who greatly impacted my life would know about it. Second, I wished that the story might inspire readers to consider how small actions can have big impacts.

I’m happy to report that I’ve heard from my bus driver friend’s son and some grandchildren and great-grandchildren! I’ve learned that Otis was born in 1899 in New Hampshire and moved to Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1924. He operated trolley cars long before driving busses. It has been great fun to compare impressions and memories of him. The word “kindly” seems to be used often.

It seemed a bit odd to learn that Otis’s son is now 84 years old! Time does march on, I guess. And even stranger to realize that if he was still alive, Otis would now be 117.

One result of  writing about the experience I didn’t expect is that the “Otis story” would become the apex of a presentation I would develop entitled, “Finding Dead Rainbows–where you stand makes a difference.” Initially, I was thinking that finding hope is often a matter of perspective–where we stand can make a difference in what we see. It was later that I realized Otis not only rescued me by letting me stand in front of the line; he also gave me hope.

Offering hope need not be complicated. I recently taught a class of adults and discovered one student who was my rainbow. Every time I looked her way, she was looking at me with a slight smile, clearly engaged and enjoying the learning experience. Anyone who has taught or spoke to groups knows how easy it is to focus on the person who has dozed off or is clearly not paying attention. But who can resist a rainbow?

After once telling the Otis story in a presentation, one listener approached me, admitting he almost cried. “Do you realize how different your life might have been if it were not for Otis?” he asked. I thought I did until he speculated, “You might have become a very different person… or in jail or maybe even dead.” My first reaction was that he was being a bit dramatic, but later I thought perhaps not.

A bully hurts. A bus driver helps. A smile makes a difference. We can decide what shapes our future. We can also help shape the future of others.

Thanks again, Otis.

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Filed under Bullying, Causes and Friends, Mental Health, Mental Hygiene, Personal Growth

Paying It Backward

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The idea of “paying it forward” of course has much merit. It means, simply, that the response to a kindness is not so much to pay it back, but to pay it forward by being kind to someone else. It’s a feel-good concept, certainly. But I remember a kindness done to me that I have felt for some years deserves to be paid back.

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s I lived in Pittsfield Massachusetts. As a country boy suddenly relocated to city life, they were some difficult years. Odd as it may seem, some of my loneliest years as a child were the years I lived in the city. I was truly overwhelmed by the numbers and differences. I really didn’t fit. I knew it and it was obvious to others. The term “bullying” hadn’t been invented yet; there were just some really mean kids—gangs, actually—who were about power and control. Those of us who didn’t fit learned how to appear invisible and avoid confrontation, but success was only relative. We learned, for example, to take different routes while walking to school, sometimes sneaking through backyards to avoid meeting certain schoolmates along the way.

When I started what was then called junior high school, it became necessary to ride the bus every day. There were actually very few yellow school busses. Mostly we received tokens that allowed us to ride on Berkshire Street Railway buses that were blue and white. They were tired old buses, with that token collection machine next to the driver and big yellow line on the floor with a sign that read, “Standing passengers must remain behind the yellow line.”

As the bus filled up it became increasingly difficult to stay behind the yellow line—we were jammed in like sardines. More importantly, it became increasingly difficult to avoid bumping others as the bus jostled along its route. One particular gang of girls resolved this problem by sharpening their fingernails to points that could stab and scratch anyone within reach.  It was not unusual to arrive at school or home bloodied. We didn’t report it, perhaps out of a strange sense of shame or a fear of even greater retaliation. There are times when I convince myself this was just one of those nightmares; it didn’t really happen. But if it had only been a nightmare, I would not have met nor would I remember the bus driver who made a difference.

I suppose bus drivers back then can be forgiven for not taking action—they were outnumbered forty or fifty to one. We weren’t really students. We were a commodity that needed moving through the city. This was public transportation. Most drivers kept their eyes glued forward, concentrating on the driving, occasionally glancing in the side mirrors and making sure the masses stayed behind the yellow line. As if it were yesterday, I remember the day I boarded the bus and the driver reached out with his hand and stopped me as I deposited my token. While it was clanging through the machine, he said, “I need you to stay up here with me by the token machine. Hold on to it while we’re moving, then step aside and make sure everyone puts a token in it when they get on.” It seemed a little strange at first that he needed my help.

But what mattered was where I stood. Standing in front of that line was an unusual privilege.  At first, it seemed very secondary that I was also safe from sharp fingernails, punches, and kicks while standing there—that was a bonus, really. Monitoring the token machine became my regular job, although I don’t ever recall needing to remind anyone to deposit a token. Of course, we’d talk some—mostly about me, my schoolwork, etc.  I noticed that he always wore a gold tie clip with the letters “OP” on it. I learned those initials stood for Otis Phillips—he loved to make sure I’d remember it by saying, “Think elevators.” Sure, I took some teasing from the girls with the pointy fingernails, but they seemed somehow less powerful and less aggressive. They’d stick out their tongues as they’d pass me to get behind the yellow line, but that didn’t hurt very much.

Otis became a friend, really. He never let me feel like a victim who needed rescuing. Instead, he made it seem that I was needed in front of the line and that I was somehow a pretty important passenger on his bus. But it wasn’t limited to being on the bus. Sometimes after school a friend and I would go on long bike rides around the city, sightseeing, and exploring. We’d always jump a little when a big blue and white bus would pull up beside us, the door would creak open, and a smiling face would call to us, “What are you guys up to? Everything okay?”

In today’s world, some might suspect his relationship with me was inappropriate. And It saddens me to think that today Otis would likely be disciplined for letting me stand in front of the line. (Truth be told I also got a few free rides when he’d spot me walking somewhere on the weekends.)

But it makes me happy to remember him, his kindness, and I now appreciate his simple solution to a problem—standing in front of that line made a huge difference. I don’t know why he chose me for that honor and today, over fifty years later, I wonder if he knew what an impact he made in my life. As is often the case, a simple act of kindness was not so simple. From his kindness I learned that where one stands can make a huge difference. And he’d probably like the fact that I often think of him when I get on an elevator.

For some years now, I’ve felt the need to “pay it back,” to acknowledge his kindness not just in deed but in word. I really never learned many details about Otis. I know he was married, but he never mentioned children. He seemed a bit grandfatherly to me at the time, so perhaps they were grown. I’ll tell you what I’m hoping. I hope through the magic of social media and blogging I can let it be known that there was an incredible bus driver working for Berkshire Street Railway around 1960 whose name was Otis Phillips. Perhaps this story will find its way to a descendant or others who knew him. It just feels like the world should know, Otis was a hero.

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MSAD 4 Veterans Day Celebration Planned

Guilford—The students and staff of MSAD 4 are inviting area Veterans and the general public to attend their Annual Veterans’ Day Celebration on Tuesday, November 10th at 1:00 p.m. “We’ve certainly created a tradition,” noted John Keane, PCSS Principal. “We’ve been hosting these celebrations for at least a decade. But it’s a tradition that seems to have more meaning every year and it’s anything but a habit—every year we create some differences.”

File photo by Mr. Boomsma, 2014 Celebration

File photo by Mr. Boomsma, 2014 Celebration

Organizers note that this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the United States’ military involvement in Vietnam and have included Vietnam Veteran and former state representative Peter Johnson as a guest speaker to commemorate the occasion.

The Marine Corps League, Bangor Detachment 1151 will open and close the program by formally posting and retiring the colors. The celebration includes the traditional patriotic music, student presentations, and selected readings that will feature students and staff from grades three through twelve. The Armed Forces Medley Salute performed by the PCSS Band typically brings the entire audience to its feet as the school and community honors veterans and those who serve in each branch of the service.

Thanks to technology, Katie Haley, a graduate of PCSS who is now on active duty with the Maine National Guard will appear “on screen” to converse with the audience about her service.

The tribute will be held in the Piscataquis Community Secondary School Gymnasium on Campus Drive in Guilford in order to accommodate the anticipated crowd. A local resident who has attended for several years commented, “This is one school program you don’t want to miss. There is some obvious sadness over the sacrifices that have been and are being made by our military. But that sadness is balanced with a deep sense of pride and appreciation. Experiencing that with children of all ages, Veterans, friends and neighbors means moist eyes and going home with a deep sense of community unity.”

Veterans and friends, parents and the entire community is invited to celebrate are encouraged to attend. Refreshments for Veterans, visitors and guests their friends will be served in the cafeteria following the program. For those unable to attend, the program will be live streamed from the school’s website (http://www.sad4.org). Long distance guests are encouraged to visit the site fifteen minutes prior to the event to establish a connection.

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Happy World Teachers’ Day!

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Third Graders learn the “Dictionary Race” during a Dictionary Day Presentation.

Bet you didn’t know today is World Teachers’ Day! Empowering teachers, building sustainable societies,” is the slogan for 2015.

By sheer coincidence, today I will be working with eighty third graders as part of the Valley Grange Words for Thirds Program. The program is designed to give third graders their own personal dictionary. I have the honor of facilitating the process and teaching the kids a little history and some basic dictionary skills.

Another coincidence was that one of the email newsletters I subscribe to included a very appropriate quote by thinker Friedrich Nietzsche (October 15, 1844–August 25, 1900).

Your true educators and cultivators will reveal to you the original sense and basic stuff of your being, something that is not ultimately amenable to education or cultivation by anyone else, but that is always difficult to access, something bound and immobilized; your educators cannot go beyond being your liberators. And that is the secret of all true culture: she does not present us with artificial limbs, wax-noses, bespectacled eyes – for such gifts leave us merely with a sham image of education. She is liberation instead, pulling weeds, removing rubble, chasing away the pests that would gnaw at the tender roots and shoots of the plant; she is an effusion of light and warmth, a tender trickle of nightly rain…

There may be other methods for finding oneself, for waking up to oneself out of the anesthesia in which we are commonly enshrouded as if in a gloomy cloud – but I know of none better than that of reflecting upon one’s educators and cultivators.

And therein lies a wonderful way to celebrate this relatively unknown day… thinking about those who have educated and “cultivated” us. We are all teachers and educators. We are all learners and students. I expect to learn something from these kids today. And I hope they learn something from me and the experience they have.

As I read Nietzche’s thoughts I was most struck by his suggestion that educators are liberators. Dictionary Day today will have, for me, a slightly different meaning today. I will be considering how today’s lesson and the book each child leaves with will be freeing and surely contribute to the person each becomes. As the kids would say, “Awesome!”

World Teacher Day

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A Great Teacher…

Tomorrow I will be teaching a course for substitute teachers. Yesterday I happen to talk to someone I believe is a truly great teacher. We bumped into each other in a grocery store. Since she looked troubled, I asked what was wrong. She replied, “I’m trying to do some math in my head.” We had a lot of fun with that. (She was buying some supplies for a class project that sounded really awesome.) Of course we ended up comparing notes and sharing “war stories.” People didn’t seem to mind going around us, standing in the aisle and laughing over some of the things we’ve experienced.

Towards the end of our conversation, we talked about some folks we knew who have recently retired. This great teacher said, “I’ve been teaching forty years.” We did some more math to estimate how many kids she’s taught. Then she added, “I really should be thinking about retiring, but I can’t.”

When I asked her why she replied, “Because I’m having way too much fun!”

The folks I’ll work with tomorrow may not be “teachers” in the formal sense of the word. But they will be teaching. My hope for them and the students they have–if only for a day–is that they will find the business of learning fun. It won’t always be easy. But it should always be meaningful. When we start to forget that, here’s a short reminder.

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Filed under Causes and Friends, Classes and Courses, Teaching

It’s a Question of Value…

Here’s a video that’s definitely worth the four minutes or so it will take to watch:

Please note this is not just about what we pay teachers. I’m not sure it’s supposed to be about how much we value teachers. It might be about how much we value our kids, their education, and all of our futures.

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