Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Colored Lights

Out my window I see hundreds of crystal bulbs outlining roofs, porches, stair rails, curving around trees and shrubs. Their light pierces the ominous darkness of the longest nights of the year. To me each point of light is an idea, a thought, a ray that inspires hope, hope that comes from the enlightenment of learning.

Each time I watch a student's face when she takes a book from the library shelf attracted by the cover and then I see the light of discovery when she looks at the pages inside. Often she shares it with others before coming to show me her treasure.

Letters, words, sentences, paragraphs on pages light the imagination as the bulbs light the dark side of nature. Stringing the lights in attractive patterns pleases the eye and soothes the spirit. Perusing the pages expands the channels of the mind adding connection to connection branches jutting in all directions. Intelligence bursts its boundaries and explores new territory.

I love the sparkle springing into eyes from the excitement of finding new information and new ideas, the stretching of minds made visible. The result is an essay, a discovery, an invention, a book, a film, a song.

In ages past, 2000 years ago, a star lighted the way for wise men and angels called the sheperds to adore the birth of a baby who would bring great change and enlightment to the world. The crystal bulbs are both reminder and inspiration.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Give Thanks

For everything there is a season under the sun
And 'tis the season of thanks...
Thanks for a million little things...
...tea and coffee in the morning.
...chocolate melting on the tongue.
...trash that I can still take it out.
...toilet bowl, scrubbing is good.
...floors that I can vacuum.
...dishes to fill, wash, and recupboard.
...shelves to dust. bringing friendly voices.
...hugs to warm the heart.
...gleam that never dims in a lover's eye.
...a cat's purrup
...the newspaper in the box.
...the books on my lamp table.
...heat in the winter.
...water from the tap.

Thanks for the big things... that takes one in. that come home.
...grandkids who visit.
...friends who care

They add up to happiness and contentment
celebrated this Thanksgiving Day.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cathars and Carcassonne

In French class, I studied and then taught Carcassonne as a medieval castle cultural lesson. Its defensive features, the thick walls, the dungeons, the openings for dropping stones fired my imagination with images of knights attacking and soldiers defending the city. In doing this research I discovered the reality behind its features.

Castles on mountain tops overlook river gorges and vineyards in the storybook landscape of southern France. From Toulouse to the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean Sea the fortified cities of Minerve, Carcassonne, Montsegur, Peyrepertuse, and Queribus dot the Languedoc region. The peaceful beauty of rolling hills, forests, and meadows belie the slaughter and terror that took place through 13th century.

Languedoc was home to the Cathars, numbers vary from 20,-40,000 believers with 1000 priests. The Cathars believed in in two gods, an evil God of Darkness (creator of the visible world) and a good God of Light (creator of the spiritual). The human body was evil and should receive as little as possible to sustain it. They called each other Christians and lived normal lives. The priests, both men and women, lived in houses run an elder or prioress and divided their time between preaching and doing regular work. The Cathar Church wealth came from the labor of the priests and the donations of the believers. The church had no civil authority over the population and did not believe in feudal heirarchy. The Cathars promoted feminism and equality for the serfs and the poor. They were vegetarians. They lived at peace with the aristocracy of the area an integral part of the countryside.

History tells the story of disturbance in this fairyland of good will. The Church in Rome saw the Cathar lifestyle as a threat. Equality for women and serfs? Disbelief in hierarchy? The Mass fakery? The Church the instrument of Satan? The clergy corrupt? An inquiry held at the town of Albi labeled the Cathars heretics and is known today as the Albigensian heresy. As a result in 1209 Pope Innocent III called for a new crusade to suppress the Cathars.

Simon de Montfort led the attacks. At Carcassonne, Viscount Raymond Roger Trencavel VI refused to surrender, but he was captured and the city taken. At Beziers, as many as 20,000 may have been massacred. Town after town the stories of terror and death repeated. People were stoned, hanged, starved in dungeons, and burned to death.
As early as 1206, Dominic de Guzman, who later became St. Dominic, began traveling and preaching in Languedoc region. The Lateran Council of 1215 formally recognized Dominic’s followers as a religious order. The Dominicans were known for their skills in teaching and theological debate. They used these trying to counter Cathar views. Despite all efforts and in the face of hardship, the Cathars continued to be a formidable force in the area.

In 1233, the Inquisition was devised for finding and punishing heretics. The Dominicans directed the Inquisition. Anyone could be arrested just on suspicion. Prisoners had no right to legal assistance, and no knowledge of their accuser or of the evidence against them. They were questioned in private and sentenced in public with no right to appeal. The persecution of the Inquisition forced Cathars to convert, to take up arms, or to flee to refuge in other countries or very remote places. One such refuge was a remote hilltop castle at the edge of the Pyrenees, Montsegur. It was besieged in 1241 and again in 1244 when it fell. Another remote stronghold at Queribus was the last to surrender in 1255. The Inquisition continued until the end of the century and the end of the Cathars.

A museum at Montsegur, the restoration of the walled city Carcassonne, and other remnants of castle walls, towers, dungeons, caves, and artifacts remain to memorialize the spiritual fervor of the Cathars. That they fought long and hard for their beliefs is admirable. I long for their hardiness and perseverance in pursuing my goals.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Friends are angels

"Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly." Anonymous

I wake giving thanks for another day. I hug my family members, and I review the day's activities at the breakfast table. Wrapped in love and compassion I leave the house with energy and purpose and high spirits. I open the school library door, flip on the lights, start the computers, and greet the first students. With such a positive start, what could go wrong?

On most days, nothing. On others the world turns contrary. The volunteer scheduled for the morning calls to report a sick child will keep her at home. A teacher has not returned a TV to the AV room, and the next user takes out his frustration on the handiest person, me. Two children want to check out the same book and my negotiations end with both in tears. "I'm leaving on the afternoon plane because the business meeting has been moved up a day," says my husband on the phone. My daughter slumps in, dropping her book bag by the door. Her contorted face tells the story. "It's not fair," she says. "They picked all the popular girls. It didn't matter how good the rest of us were." Cheerleading tryouts did not give her the hoped for result.

We struggle silently through supper rearranging the food on our plates. I'm unable to find words to ease her hurt. She retreats to her room while I clear away the meal. The phone rings, and Sheila says, "You sound down. What's wrong?" She listens while I list my woes. The telling lifts the weight. Her voice is soft, empathetic; she reminds me that words won't help my daughter, but a hug will.

She's my friend; she hugs me over the phone. "You're an angel," I say. What is that fluttering I hear as I climb the stairs to my daughter's room?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Transition and Change

I place the tube-shaped instrument to my eye and view a symmetrical design produced by mirrors reflecting the pattern made by bits of colored glass at the other end of the tube. A slight turn changes the design; another turn, another change. The myriad of change continues with each transition. A portion from one configuration moves to another position changing the design and perspective. Life is a kaleidoscope of transition and change.

With conception, a human being begins the process of change. Rituals punctuate a person’s timeline. A birthday marks a baby’s transition from womb to world. A first tooth, first step, and first word call for picture taking and record making. Entry into the world of education means the celebration of the first of many graduations—from kindergarten, from elementary school, from high school, and from college. Each signals a transition in mental, physical, emotional, and social growth. Bits from one stage form the basis for transformation to the next.

Besides education, relationships reflect change—from sibling, from pal, from best friend, from boyfriend/girlfriend, from lover to life mate. Even when a life mate is chosen and a commitment made, the relationship evolves, grows, and changes or it dies. Like the kaleidoscope, change alters the dynamics of a relationship. The motif ebbs and flows, brightens and darkens, pales and intensifies, comforts and troubles, and weakens and deepens. Youth reeks with intensity, middle life with sober brightness, and older age with a calm depth. I’m entering this time of quiet enjoyment of my mate’s strengths and indifference to his foibles. The recognition of the finiteness of the life span begs appreciating every remaining moment.

My life’s work reflects transition, too. Training culminates in working at a task, job, or career. In the beginning, huge amounts of time and energy shape the trials and rewards of work. Often one begins with uncertainty and gains confidence and skill to reap the rewards of promotion, honor, money, and achievement. My education career ends; retirement begins. Honors, leadership positions, and respect of colleagues signal success even though monetary levels were less than desirable in education. Long ago, I made the choice knowing this and I will not complain now. My thoughts have moved beyond school walls and classrooms to writing: letters, newsletters, essays, and a novel.

Transition moves along and becomes change; change shifts to transition and the process repeats. Individual bits rearrange in never ending creativity. Movement and activity, colors and energies animate my world stimulating a continuous kaleidoscope of inspiration. I welcome the next turn, prepared to revel in next design.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Contacting Emily in 2007 address leaped from the monitor’s screen into my head. Could it be? My heart pounded at the thought of Emily Dickinson,the cloistered poet, dressed in white, sitting at her computer sending messages into cyberspace. Dare I make contact? I do! My fingers tremble as I type. Dare I ask for permission to visit her? I do; I tell myself a dream does not come true without taking action. I click on send, and it’s done; I can’t call the message back.

Leaving the mail screen active, I search my book shelves for two books: one with a faded green cover and wrinkled pages, and one in it’s dust jacket with clean white pages of bold dark print. Emily Dickinson’s poems. I read while I wait for the ding that announces incoming e-mail messages.

“A precious--mouldering pleasure--’tis--
To meet an Antique Book--
In just the Dress his Century wore--
A privilege--I think--”

Emily Dickinson is that Antique Book from another century, that person who created a quiet revolution with her poetry. How exciting to contact her! Do I dare hope for the privilege of being in her presence, sharing a cup of tea, and discussing nature, words, and ideas?

“His venerable Hand to take--
And warming in our own--
A passage back--or two--to make
To times when he--was young--”

I substitute “her” and “she” and dream of taking Emily’s hand. I’m certain that in the awe I feel, I couldn’t begin to speak. Yet her hand warms my own and leads me to a chair. Emily sits in another chair close by, hands in her lap. Her dark hair is a smooth cap around her head; her dark dress trimmed with white lace around the neck. Her voice calms my nerves and invites me to converse.

“His quaint opinions--to inspect--
His thought to ascertain
On Themes concern our mutual mind--
The Literature of Man--”

Emily begins with the most recent book of Dickens, and we talk of style, and characters, and social themes therein. She pours tea and passes me a cup. I spread the linen napkin on my lap and chose several delicacies from a plate of tempting dainty sandwiches and cookies. It is as I supposed, an occasion full of grace and courtesy.

“What interested Scholars--most--
What Competitions ran--
When Plato--was a Certainty--
And Sophocles--a Man--”

Emily converses on the strands of thought common to the ancient scholars and to their modern counterparts. She wonders if people, society, will ever learn from the literature and history of the past instead of repeating and even compounding mistakes. She’s interested in my opinion! She waits patiently for me to overcome my tongue-tied hesitation and attends my words, asking a question here, making a comment there.
“When Sappho--was a living girl--
and Beatrice wore
The Gown that Dante--deified--
Facts Centuries before”

Emily quotes from Sappho, Elizabeth Browning, and the Brontes; I dare to introduce her to Moore, Rich and Angelou. She seems pleased that poets admired and imitated her verse and stanza patterns. She smiles a bit when I mention an entire volume has been published containing poetry inspired by her.

“He traverses--familiar--
As One should come to Town--
And tell you all your Dreams--were true--
He lived--where Dreams were born--”

Emily dreamed and wrote her dreams for readers everywhere to know. Because of her others dare to dream and dare to write their dreams with truth and honesty. Her sparkling intellect, keen curiosity, and deep introspection kindle my desire to search for deeper meanings and truth.

“His presence is Enchantment--
You beg him not to go--
Old volumes shake their Vellum Heads
And tantalize--just so--” *

Of what importance, of what renown am I that Emily should share her precious time with me, yet the afternoon establishes a rapport, a kinship that embraces my soul and encourages me to dream. Emily’s presence is enchanting. I want to linger with Emily at Amherst and drink more of her rapture.

The anticipated “ding” has not interrupted my reverie with Emily; but I will keep the two volumes beside my computer. I will be patient. After all, in the year 2007, Emily may choose any one of 365 days to contact me. I will wait.

*Poem quoted from Thomas H. Johnson, ed., The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1957, pp.176-77.