Archive for December, 2013

THE CHRISTMAS MOUSE IN THE CALENDAR

December 27, 2013 Comments Off on THE CHRISTMAS MOUSE IN THE CALENDAR General

The Christmas Mouse in the Calendar

Christmas Mouse Calendar

When I first began working at my current university, we had a department secretary who sold Avon products.  This was something very new to me; I was adjusting to a lot of new things after moving from New York City to the hills of Western Pennsylvania. However, as soon as our secretary handed me the Avon catalogue, I decided that a purchase was in order. Perusing the section on Christmas items, my eye fell on a cloth Advent calendar with a cute little mouse that moved daily from the first pocket at the start of December all the way to pocket 24 on Christmas Eve. It’s been a long time now since I bought that calendar, but I continue to greet it fondly each year as I hang it in its customary spot.  Placing the little mouse in pocket number one, I anticipate its all-too-rapid speed to number twenty-four. As much as I try to treasure time and hold on to it, especially during the holidays, it continues to rush by. Today, it seems impossible that the little mouse is once again resting in pocket twenty-four. Very soon now it will return to the box where I keep my Advent collection, and rest quietly in the basement until Thanksgiving weekend next year.

As we all know, life like time moves only in the direction of forward. We can’t slow it or stop it, but we do have a lot of control over what we do with it. I think that one of the most important things that we can do with time is work as hard as possible to enhance the lives of others.  This belief of mine is affirmed every year during the holiday season.  Much of December can seem blurred with the sense of an overwhelming rush of time and expectation. Yet, it is a month that provides us with the priceless opportunity to remember that each day can be filled with small greetings, gestures, and kind acts that cost us nothing but make life so much better for others. Our own daily intention to live in a way that helps others to live in peace may well be the key to our own happiness and satisfaction.

Many of my experiences as a college professor remind me of the importance of efforts to enhance the lives of others every day. For example, toward the end of the semester in mid-December, I was having a conference with one of my students and the cooperating teacher with whom he had been placed for a field experience. Sitting in an empty classroom as we talked together, I could hear the voices of many children in the other classrooms and in the hallways.  During the meeting, the cooperating teacher shared what it meant to him now to look back on a career that provided the opportunity to have had a genuine effect on so many people. When the meeting was over, I stayed to talk for a few more minutes with my student. I wanted him to really think about what the words of his cooperating teacher had meant in terms of his own career.  It would be very important for him to also be able to look back one day and feel wonderful about his impact on others. He might accomplish some big things – graduate degrees or awards or promotions. But ultimately the “big things” would pale beside the knowledge that, every single day, he had done everything he could to enhance the lives of as many of his students and colleagues as possible.

I think that’s the most important lesson that I learn from my calendar mouse every year. December will rush by for sure! But every day of the holiday season is rich with the opportunity to think of others and to act with intention to reduce suffering and increase justice and peace wherever possible. Knowing that the days will inevitably pass, the opportunities to do good become even more precious.

Peace and love!

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children

 

STARS IN FIELDS OF DARKNESS

December 20, 2013 Comments Off on STARS IN FIELDS OF DARKNESS General

Stars in Fields of Darkness

stars in the sky

Many holiday seasons ago, an elderly relative showed me an illustration of a group of children on Christmas Eve that he had once displayed annually in his office.  The children in the picture had just finished performing in a nativity play in their church, and were racing excitedly out into the starry evening. Still in their shepherd’s costumes, their faces were glowing with great excitement.   As I looked at the illustration, my relative said, “That was me! That was my childhood! I can still see it and feel it!”

I always think back to that image at this time of year. For me, there has always been richness in the narrative of shepherds tending flocks of sheep on a quiet evening who are led by a bright star to meet a baby. It is such a simple story but it defies the heavy layers of consumerism and greed that can sabotage the Christmas season. The children in that illustration may have been quite excited about toys under a tree, but I doubt it was a memory of toys that continued to capture my relative’s heart. Rather, I suspect he might have treasured most the wonderful memory of enacting a story about a baby of greatness lying with gentle animals in the warmth of a stable.  That little baby may have been tended by angels, but it was ordinary people who were first invited to greet him.  A whole new world of hope had been opened up by stars in fields of darkness.

I think this story can transcend faith traditions and remind us that in spite of the hardships and disappointments that abound for some during the holiday season, we can all produce simple miracles that will have a lasting effect.  There are many people who have reason to feel sad at this time of year. Someone they had loved with all their hearts might be missing from the holiday table; something they had counted on all their lives might have been lost forever. We know there are children whose desires have been heartlessly manipulated with endless hours of televised commercials; all the hopes and dreams in the world will not put the possessions they have been made to desire under their tree this year. At a time in their young lives when everything should seem possible, their disappointment may turn to cynicism.  A lot of the glittery and glowing things they have seen on TV seemed like a promise – and now they are all just a lie!

What I hope for these children and for all the adults who are sad this year is a few stars of their very own in fields of darkness.  These can be the stars of hope and the stars of belief that the very best things in life can exist for everyone in deceptively simple places.  We all have some stars in our pockets too – kind words, helpful deeds, careful listening to one another, and deep compassion for those who suffer.  These are the priceless gifts of the season. Let’s give and use them well!  They will last and be remembered and cherished long after the toys and other products are long gone.

Peace and love!

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children

(Thanks to Marvin Fein for his thoughtful contributions to this blog!)

THIS YEAR GIVE THE GIFT OF RESISTANCE!

December 5, 2013 Comments Off on THIS YEAR GIVE THE GIFT OF RESISTANCE! General

 

This Year Give the Gift of Resistance

gifts

There seems to be quite a bit of emphasis this holiday season on finding ways to give gifts that help others.  To me, that makes a great deal of sense.  Many people in our national community are in need of shelter, food, and clothing – many others are struggling with the loss of jobs or other serious economic hardships. Instead of benefitting the businesses that are structured on greed and manipulation of the public, what a wonderful idea to find as many ways as possible to share our resources with one another!

Yet, even better than seasonal sharing (though it is very important!) might be the formation of sustained local grassroots movements to address the root causes of poverty, joblessness, and the inability of so many working people to reach even a baseline of comfortable maintenance for their families. Let’s give the gift of resistance for the holidays! Resist going to fast food restaurants that spend billions on advertising while skimping on fair pay and reasonable benefits for employees! (And write the companies to tell them why!)  Resist purchasing clothing made in global markets that pay a pittance in wages and fail to protect the safety of their employees. (And purchase locally made items from small businesses in your community). Resist the closing of libraries and grocery stores and hospitals in less-than-affluent areas (and write letters to your local newspapers to indicate dissatisfaction and protest!)  Let’s be good citizens for the holidays and speak out for the common good.

I recently had the great fortune to hear a talk given by U.S. Representative John Lewis at the annual meeting of the National Council for the Social Studies in Saint Louis. It has been 50 years since he spoke as a 23 year old at the March on Washington and more than 50 years since he was beaten and jailed as one of the first Freedom Riders. At 73 he’s still fighting for human rights and urging others to do the same. He told the audience to “get into trouble – good trouble – necessary trouble” to help our nation. Further he told us to “find a way to get in the way.” Get in the way of what? Get in the way of forces that devalue people and make them pawns in the game of an economy that is benefitting only a few. Get in the way of those who seek to take a secure future away from people who have worked all their lives believing in the promise of retirement pensions that are dissolving before their eyes. Get in the way of prejudice and discrimination in its many forms – all of which weaken the fabric of democracy. Get in the way of hypocrisy — the false words of the powerful who say one thing and then do the exact self-serving opposite.

Had enough? Give the gift of resistance of the holidays. Just do one thing, however small, to push back on economic greed and enhance the good of the community – local, national, and global. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the holiday than that!

Written by Beatrice S. Fennimore a teacher educator focused on advocacy and social justice for all children