There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you – Maya Angelou

As we find ourselves in the midst of the Holiday Season this year, we have noticed recent criticisms of some of the more timeless classic holiday television shows.  Here, I will address specifically “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” (1973) and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964).

I am not one of the people who will criticize these shows for the obvious problems associated with them because I am old enough to long ago have realized these things.  You see, I was born in 1964, and I grew up watching these shows – along with many other shows – that either confronted these same issues or simply did not bring attention to them at all.  I lived in the same society that struggled with these issues daily.  Society was kind of in a tug-of-war with itself.  

We like to think of the 1950s as very conservative and reserved, full of high moral values while the 1960s were breaking free of those restraints with drug experimentation, more liberal ideas around dress, music, sex and just about everything.  The truth is that we still had a long way to go when it came to many things, and television shows like “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” pushed the envelope by reflecting back to us exactly what was wrong in our society.  These were adult issues being disguised in happy little cartoons that adults and children could understand.

In “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” Peppermint Patty starts off the problems by inviting herself over to Thanksgiving dinner with Charlie Brown – even though he already has plans to spend the evening at his grandmother’s home.  Charlie Brown finds himself “tongue tied” and unable to explain to her that he already has plans before she hangs up.  Before he knows it, she has invited several more friends.  Linus saves the day by suggesting Charlie Brown simply have everyone arrive earlier, which will allow him to spend time with his friends and still get him to his grandmother’s in time for dinner. 

But poor Charlie Brown doesn’t know how to cook.  No worries, they make buttered toast and popcorn and serve jelly beans, pretzels, and ice cream – all with Snoopy’s help!  But, as dinner is served, Peppermint Patty gets indignant about the lack of traditional turkey, pie, and other items normally served during Thanksgiving.  Poor Charlie Brown leaves  the table.  Marcie has to remind Peppermint Patty that this whole Thanksgiving affair was her idea in the first place, which makes her realize she was being too hard on her friend “Chuck.”  Unfortunately, Peppermint Patty talks Marcie into apologizing to Charlie Brown on her behalf, which is accepted.

The criticism of the show comes mainly from the seating arrangements around the table.  It has been noticed that not only are all the white kids and Snoopy sitting on all sides of the tables except the side on which Franklin – the only black kid – is sitting, but they are also sitting in normal chairs, while Franklin is sitting in a rickety lawn chair that apparently also tips over or breaks at some point.  They claim that because of these two things, the show was being racist.  I actually disagree with this assessment.

What people have forgotten about is the time period in which the show was written.  It is true that racism in our country was still alive and well and civil rights were still being fought for.  (Racism is still an issue we are dealing with even now – some 45 years later.)  The creator of the Peanuts cartoon actually fought to include Franklin in his comic.  I feel Charles Schultz was actually progressive, and I also feel that the show does a great job of reflecting back to us exactly what was wrong.  We see in the show Charlie Brown welcoming Franklin into his home, and they even have a cool “bro” handshake.  Obviously, Franklin is welcome and a friend.  But what happens around the dinner table becomes telling of what happens even when we include our friends of color: they still manage to get left out.  So the question becomes why?  What happened between the front door and the dinner table?  Why is he accepted on one level, but somehow left out on another level?  Where did the disconnect happen?  I think the show does a great job of showing us where we still need ask ourselves these questions.

Then we have the story of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which also came under similar criticism for some of the same kinds of reasons.  Poor little Rudolph is born to proud parents, but immediately, his nose shines bright and red, to his father’s dismay.  His father immediately tries to hide it from view when Santa comes to visit.  But as things go, the disguise quickly fails, and Santa displays his dissatisfaction.  The other reindeer – including the adult coach – also see his nose when he tries out for the reindeer games, and they make a point of making fun of him and excluding him from future practices.  He has by this time fallen head over heels for a cute little fawn named Clarice, whose father has now called her home and forbidden them to see each other.

Rudolph then meets Hermey, who is an elf that hates making toys, and whose only desire is to become a dentist.  Having been forced to comply to toy making, he has decided to run away.  Rudolph joins him.  They find themselves in great danger and eventually find the Island of Misfit Toys, where they want to stay because they are misfits and feel a kinship.  But, they are not allowed to stay because even amongst misfits, they do not fit in since they are not toys.  They end up going back home, where a happy ending is found by everyone.  Namely, this comes from everyone realizing that there is a place for everyone, even if it wasn’t the place they all thought it should be.  There also seems to be an underlying message of forgiveness.

The criticism for the show is multi-layered as it is full of discrimination, bullies, sexism, and a whole host of other biases.  Again, what is forgotten is the time period in which the show came out.  The original story of Rudolph was written in the 1930s, the enchanting song about this reindeer was written in the 1940s, and the show came out in the 1960s – all before civil rights and feminism movements hit full swing and long before we even considered making bullying a part of our school curriculum.  And yet, what this story and television show expand upon is that there are a lot of social injustices evident in our modern civilized world; and in an animated production, these very issues are explored and reflected back at us in a way that children and adults can understand easily.  

In both cases, these television shows dared show us the ugly aspects of our humanity and did so in a very subtle way – only because we had been socialized in a certain belief system.  However, as we have evolved over the decades, becoming more sensitive to racism, feminism, bullying, and all types of biases and discrimination, it becomes more glaring to us and far less subtle.  The shows themselves are not being racist, or whatever the accusation is, but showing us that WE are being that thing.  They are showing us this behavior is wrong.  They dare us to re-examine ourselves and our attitudes.  When we can look at what is wrong in these shows, we need to stop blaming the show and truly look into ourselves and see what is wrong inside of us.

What I would be worried about in each of the shows instead is when Woodstock happily eats turkey at the end of “A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving,” or when the misfit bird is thrown out of the sleigh without an umbrella at the end of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

The Secret Handshake

Do I know It?

Recently a friend of mine reached a landmark birthday and opened up about not really knowing what was going on in his social interactions with other people.  He talked about feeling like everyone else had gone through a special “training class” that he had missed. I knew exactly what he meant because in my younger years, I too felt very similar in that I felt like everyone had been let in on the secret handshake, except me.

He went on to talk about how he felt like he was wearing masks, reflecting back what other people did and said, but that he really did not understand the rules or what was happening; it sometimes led to misunderstandings that baffled him too.  Again, I understood. I was often baffled by the opening greeting of “How are you?” When I let people know how I really was – and why, they never really seemed to be interested in hearing it. Why were they asking me how I was if they did not want to know? Why do we include this obligatory question in our greetings if all we really expect – and want – to hear is “fine,” whether we are or not?

But it wasn’t just this. There were many social rules I did not understand, and I often found myself breaking some unspoken rule or another. I also found that people were very often indirect, and I was left to guess what they meant.  Because I am not a mind-reader, I was often wrong, which led to a lot of misunderstandings. Why couldn’t people just be direct? Say what you mean! Ask for what you want!

When I was in the miltary, things were much easier to figure out. Social structure is very organized, the rules are very clear on how to behave around others of various ranks, and respect is expected of all.  As a soldier, I clearly understood where I fit in, how to behave, and how to interact.  The chain of command and procedures were well understood if there were any issues.

When I was discharged, I found myself confused by the civilian world. People were often jerks, chain of command did not work, and nothing I had learned in the military had translated into civilian life.  I had gone from order and understanding to chaos and confusion.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to believe that no one really does know “the secret handshake,” but everyone likes to pretend that they do. We wear masks in order to “fit in.”  How many times have I heard people say things like “I was born in the wrong country” or “…in the wrong time” or even “…on the wrong planet”? But none of us wants to admit openly we don’t know the secret handshake, nor do we want to remove our masks because to do so would be akin to getting caught with our pants down.

So, we keep picking up our masks, playing the games, and always wondering things like: who am I? who are these people? and what the hell just happened?!  

What about you? Do you feel the same way? Or is there really a secret handshake?

...yet with my feet on the ground
I look around
and see everyone's with me
confused as can be
and yet they pretend
what they do they intend
they make it up too
it's how they get through...

--GA Rosenberg

A couple of weeks ago I made a delivery to a mental health facility in Oakland, CA, at about 6:30 pm.  As I left the building and entered the parking lot I was approached by a homeless woman asking me about the facility.  I told her it was a place for mentally ill patients.  She asked if there was someone she could talk to.  I went back inside where the security guard told me that he had already told her that there was a place around the corner for her.  I came back out and relayed the information to her.  She did not want to go there since she had previously had a bad experience there.  She asked if I knew of a safe place for her to spend the night.  Since I did not, I called a couple of friends of mine who had better resources.

I was given three phone numbers to try.  I called the first one, where I was told that she would need a referral from a social worker before she could stay there.  I called the second phone number where I was connected to their answering service and was told all the case workers had already gone home, and there was nothing that could be done to help her at this time of night.  I tried calling the third number, but because I have an out of state area code, I was unable to connect.  I was left as helpless as I had started. All of these calls took about 30 minutes, and I was back at square one.  In all this time, the homeless woman got a little more comfortable with me and said I seemed like someone she could trust.  I felt a deep need to help her, so I called one of my friends back and told him what had happened.  He searched diligently for somewhere we could send her.  Finally, he called me back with a referral to a church in Berkeley that would be opening their doors for the night for homeless people to stay because it was expected to rain that night.

I gave the homeless woman the information, and I walked her to the bus stop, where I stood with her for about 20 minutes.  When the bus came, she grabbed a couple of her bags and I grabbed one her bags, and we started walking to the bus, but halfway to the door, she stopped and decided not to get on.  Something spooked her, and I do not know what it was. I waited a few minutes longer with her, and we talked while we waited.  She was very soft spoken, so I could not make out much of what she was saying, but what I did know was that she had her kids taken away from her because she had no home, and they were in foster care.  I had gotten the impression that she had left a violent situation.  She was scared of men, which is something I not only heard from what she said, but from what I had also observed.  Perhaps it was the male bus driver that had spooked her, maybe it was his impatience, maybe something else. I asked her for her name, and she replied, but I did not quite catch what she said.  I asked if it was Lori or Glory, and when I said Glory, she smiled and said something about that being in the Bible.  So, just because she seemed to gravitate toward the name Glory, I decided that for me, that would be her name.

We waited, but I was holding my co-workers’ paychecks – in gang territory – and it was dark outside.  I was becoming keenly aware of the time, with my chance to meet with my co-workers fast approaching.  I wanted so much to help Glory, but it was becoming apparent to me that there was little I could do.  I did not have money to buy her a hotel room for the night – nor even a little spare change I could offer her.  The ironic thing was that though I had my co-workers’ paychecks, someone else was holding mine, so I did not have the ability to go to the ATM and withdraw money, and I do not have credit cards either.

I finally excused myself and hurried on my way to get to my car.  As I left, I noticed another bus coming and hoped that Glory would get on it and use the information that I repeated to her about the church in Berkeley and stay there for the night.  As I drove away, I noticed the bus had left, and she was still there.  I was disappointed.  I was afraid for her.  I felt guilty.  I felt angry.

I was disappointed because I felt that she would not make it in time to the church to get a ticket and spend a night dry and safe. Indeed, I was not sure she would even try to get there.  I was afraid for her safety because this was gang territory, and she looked like an easy target with her three bags and a blanket she had wrapped around her. I felt guilty because I did not put her in my car and drive her somewhere safer. And I was angry because it seemed so ridiculously and overwhelmingly difficult to get her help. Why was it so hard for a sweet, fearful homeless woman, such as Glory, to get help for the most basic of needs – a safe place to stay?

This has been eating at me for the last couple of weeks.  I know there are a lot of homeless people in Oakland.  I see them on street corners asking for money and sleeping on sidewalks and under the overpasses.  I see camps of homeless folk living off of freeway on/off ramps and in the trees that saturate some side streets.  I do not know if they can all be helped or not, but there is a need to try.  The facilities that are open to the homeless are fewer than needed with limited beds available.  People searching for a place to stay the night do not always find these shelters safe and would opt to stay on the streets, which in my opinion are just as bad.  And what I found out was that some of these places require one to have a referral from a social worker.  REALLY?!

Glory seemed very sweet, a little afraid, and certainly in need.  Her request was simple: a safe place to stay the night.  Why is it so hard to provide shelter for those in need?  Look, I know it takes money, but money abounds in lots of places.  For example, the average person has probably donated to a charity or cause of some sort at least once in his or her lifetime.  We donate to all kinds of things.  Can we not find a charity to help the homeless people with shelter and at least one warm meal a day?

You touched my heart, Glory.  May you be blessed and protected.

Everyday I sit in my den at my computer, which is in front of my window facing the park across the street. For several months now I have noticed a truck that is always parked along the curbside at the park in front of my window. What is significant about this is that a man lives in this truck. He sits in the driver’s seat all day long and to the best of my knowledge does nothing. At night he climbs into the back, which is covered with a camper shell, and sleeps there until morning. In the morning he pours out a container of yellow liquid that I assume is urine from the night.

For about a week or two he had a companion living with him, who sat and slept in the passenger seat day and night. His companion eventually disappeared.

Some days I feel sad for him. Some days I feel angry. I have mixed emotions around why he is there and the fact that he is there. It seems wrong that someone should have to live like this, but I do not know if he chose this for himself or if he is a victim of our cruel world. Some days I want to walk over there and ask if there is anything I can do to help him, but in the end I know there isn’t anything I can do. I am poor, living on disability and go to food banks for my food, so what do I have to give? What could I possibly do for him?

I know he has it a lot better than many homeless people, because he has a shelter and no one is harassing him to move on, get out, or otherwise be gone. He is at peace in that respect. But to sit day after day in his truck and do nothing must be exceedingly boring and I am sure it must suck. I know there have been many times in my life when I worried I would be in the same kinds of circumstances. But I still sometimes feel angry that he is there. I am not sure why. Angry because he reminds me of how close I am to being there myself? Angry because no one should have to live like that? Angry because there is a strange homeless man living yards away from me? Angry because my middle class upbringing makes me snobbish? Maybe a little bit of all these reasons. I hate to think of myself as snobbish, but when I look deep inside, I know it is there. It is not a feeling I like to have nor admit to, but somehow it is there anyway.

So, is this about me or the homeless man or both of us? Where is the wound? Where is the scab? What can be done about either one? Why must all this exist? I was brought up to accept people for who they are and not to discriminate. My parents, mainly my mother, I think did right by me in these teachings, but society did me wrong. I still got the message along the way that it was okay to discriminate against certain people. Our very language and laws prove that every day.

It surprises me still to see such openly racist, sexist, and discriminating people of all sorts in the 21st Century! When do we get past it all? When do we accept that we are all human? That we are all people? When do we get the idea that various cultures make life interesting and that skin color is only a variation on the same theme? Why does one way have to be the right way and another has to be the wrong way?

What if my homeless man chose this life for himself? True, not very likely, but it certainly is possible. It is simple. There are few worries. No bills to pay. It does come with challenges, sure. But amazingly, some people do choose this way of life. Who says it has to be wrong? IF he chose it, then let’s not assume it is wrong. If he did not choose it, then let’s see what we can do to improve it. Maybe he is mentally ill and cannot manage his bills and lost his home because of that? Who knows? So, maybe he needs someone to help him with these kinds of things? Maybe he lost his job and was not able to find another one? Maybe all he needs is another chance? But, he won’t get one because he has no physical address.

Anyway…enough of my rant. I think I have said enough to make people think.

I Am Truly Blessed!

I was in yet another auto accident this last Saturday. Except this time it was my fault. My 1st accident ever that was my fault! I had my eyes turned to my sideview mirror looking to get into the next lane over when the traffic came to a sudden stop in front of me and I was unable to stop in time. We were not going very fast at all…maybe 20-25mph at best, but it was enough…Enough to scratch up my front bumper, break my grill, knock my license plate clean off and crack my radiator! The other car was barely scratched! My insurance will take care of their car, but my car has been in too many accidents and has a salvage title now, which means I cannot insure it, so my insurance will not be covering any of the damages to my car.

I drove my car to my mechanic’s before the radiator fluid completely leaked out so I would not have to have it towed, because I truly only had $1 to my name that day. I told him there was no hurry, because I did not have the money to get it fixed. I was greatly depressed about not having my car. My sense of independence was now lost.

I went to church Sunday and shared my story during “Joys and Concerns” and after church a wonderful gentlemen that I know offered to help me out! On Tues he called me and told me that he had taken care of the parts cost for me on the radiator. My mechanic said he would work with me on the labor by letting me do some filing for him. In the meantime, I can pick up my car!

Bless both these men for their kind, giving and generous hearts! I just do not know what I would have done without their help! Blessed Be!

My sister posed the above question on Facebook and I am totally intrigued by this question. I wonder if there truly is one more powerful than another, because after having spent some time thinking about this, I have come to the conclusion that they are interdependent on each other.

I’ll start with water, because it is my element and the one I wanted to be the most powerful. Water seems to be the giver of life, or the beginning of most, if not all, life forms on Earth (e.g., mammals begin life in utero in water). Water can extinguish fire, but fire cannot eliminate water – only change its shape. And water can erode earth, but earth cannot be extinguished by water – it can only change its shape. Water is composed partly of oxygen (air – or for this debate wind), so without wind, water could not exist. So, in the beginning (and there are many examples) it would appear that water is the most powerful, but it cannot get rid of earth and it relies on wind to exist.

So, what about fire? Someone mentioned that it was “the beginning of everything.” Fire is a giver of life – without it everything would be frozen… Fire is also a destroyer of life – get too close and you (and everything else) will become a heaping mess of ash (earth) – earth again is not destroyed, but changes form. But fire cannot exist without earth or air (wind) – its fuel sources.

Earth has been mentioned a few times here, so let’s do that next. (I have a friend who simply said that earth contains all the others. Hmmm…I will have to think on that one a little more…) Earth is quite powerful in that it seemingly cannot be destroyed by water or fire – it can only change shape or form, but still exists as earth. I would presume that earth is responsible for gravity too. So, in effect, earth moves water (the moon on tides for example). Landslides and earthquakes can be quite devastating too (I cannot include volcanoes here, because that is fire). But, even though we have concluded earth cannot be destroyed by water or fire (or even wind), it can be changed to a smaller or weaker form/consistency. Getting a rock thrown at you vs. a handful of sand can make a difference on whether or not you get a bruise for example.

So, what about wind? Wind creates hurricanes and tornadoes, which are pretty devastating disasters when they strike. Wind can change the shape of earth, move water, and blow out fire. Wind can also carry water (rain, humidity). It fuels fire and is a necessary part of water. Wind does not seem to be destroyed by water, earth or fire, but wind (oxygen) can be consumed by fire. Wait! Can it? Wind is composed of many elements (helium, carbon dioxide), so again, it can only change form, but still exists as wind. But, wind is dependent on earth (gravity) and fire (heat) to move.

So, even though I can list many examples as to why one is stronger than another or why one is weaker than another, I think the bottom line in MY opinion, is that none are more powerful, because of the interrelationship these elements share with each other. (I could be wrong, of course…)

Where Earth, Water, Wind and Fire meet

Which One Is True?  Both?  Neither?  Here is my take on it.

Our Educational System Through Time:

There was a time when our educational system in America was valued. No matter how small a town was there always seemed to be a school, or a parent that taught their child at home. Teachers and a good education were valued and respected. The Three R’s were considered basic necessities. Not so much these days. And I think this is the real problem.

Over time we have dumbed our education down to the point that students are bored, and we have tied teachers’ hands by having stupid things in place like “no child left behind,” and teaching to state tests, not to mention discontinuing basic educational classes that gave children a chance to express themselves and burn off some energy like art, music and gym. It is no wonder we have a multitude of children in this country with ADD and ADHD! Half these kids are probably bored to death in school and cannot focus because their creativity and activity outlets have been stamped out and may not be ADHD at all.

When my child brought home an “A” paper in the 2nd grade that had atrocious spelling and punctuation errors, I questioned the teacher about it. Her response was that it was more important for the children to get their feelings on the paper than it was to correct their spelling and punctuation. It was important to build their self-confidence and not hurt their feelings. I was livid! And so went my child’s education.

Do you know they have stopped teaching handwriting in school now?!  I have always known that was a bad idea! And I was proven right when I saw 1st hand the result of this at my job the other night when I sat next to a young gal who continually handed me every letter written in by someone because she could not read the handwriting! GRRRRR! I was doing her job as well as mine, and I hardly think that is fair. If she cannot do the job required, then what is she doing there? Reading handwriting is a requirement of that job even though it is not an official requirement. But God-forbid if we should discriminate against someone on their lack of education!

My partner is an instructor of English at the college level and has been teaching for about 26 years. Do you know that she actually gets phone calls from college student parents wondering why their student “got” the grade they did?! Why wasn’t it an A? Well, there are two problems she faces: First, these students often know nothing about basic English, reading or writing skills; second, these students fail to show up for repeated classes and/or fail to turn in their homework. And yet, these students and their parents expect to be handed an A just by virtue of the fact that they are registered for and paying for these classes.

Other countries are far smarter than we are because they still value an education. Teachers are still respected. And in some places, teachers are actually given a fair salary! Our society as a rule cares about the standard of education, the parents care, the teachers care and the students have to care, because everyone else does too! Many Amercians are complaining that foreigners are taking our jobs, but has anyone ever stopped to think about why? (We won’t get into corporate greed sending all the unskilled and low paying jobs overseas.) Well, our white collar jobs require an education, and foreigners are being brought in to do our jobs because we can’t and they can! So, if you don’t like it, then get smart! Because this is a world economy now, and that is not going to change. Highly skilled jobs are still going to be needed no matter where we are in this world, and the people who have the education are going to go where the money is.

So, even though we may have blamed the the student and now blame the teacher, what we really need to do is look at ourselves and our overall societal attitude towards education. If the student doesn’t care, it is because no one around him does either. Social apathy. If the teachers fail, it is because of restricting laws and rules that prevent them from failing students who did not make the grade, or even preventing them from doing any real teaching because state laws mandate that X-number of students must pass the state test in order to get funding, so education halts before state tests come up so teachers can teach to the test!

And what about the parents? How many parents are sitting down with their kids every night to do homework with them? How many parents answer questions for their kids, or help their kids manage their time, or hire tutors for kids who are stuggling, or even volunteer at the school? Now, before all you parents get upset with me… I know that society does not support you either. I know many of you are out there working jobs and simply do not have the luxury of volunteering at the school or hiring a tutor because you are struggling financially and are too tired by the time you get home to do anything else. So, when do we get a society that supports us parents and our need to help our kids, too? Why are we working so hard and not rewarding parents, students and educators for quality education?

%d bloggers like this: