Sunday, April 25, 2010

Run Sophie Run

I was swelling with pride today as six year old Sophie ran an 800 meter race. It was classic tortoise and the hare. Most of the kids in this age range take off like bats out of hell the moment the gun goes off. Sophie, ever the more cautious one starts off at a leisurely trot, a little too slow for her dad's liking and she finishes the first lap in nearly last place. However, on lap number two, she slowly started to pick up the pace and began passing all of the kids who were now either walking or running, and barely hanging on for dear life. I think she passed twenty or so kids from the 500 to 600 meter mark. (Once she did so, I started counting how many tikes were in the race, I know pathetic, had she stayed in last, I would not have counted a one). She wound up finishing 6th out of thirty plus runners and ran a respectable 5:10. (I don't tell her any of this, but as a coach, I can't help but look at the clock). Next week, she will race in the trophy mile hoping to run at 10 minutes or under. I will be there, the obnoxious dad screaming and cheering, that dad that I have rolled my eyes at and muttered at under my breath hundreds of times over the years. Now, I am him and I don't hate him quite as much.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Heaviness builds incessantly, buried, uneasiness consuming
Is it enough?, having what it takes, who is watching, waiting, expecting?, never ceasing
Wanting to embrace, trying to slow down, real joy fleeting,
Thoughts careening, spinning faster, faster, twisted, crashing

Longing to know why, how? Who is this? Has it all been a façade?
Always affirming the art of genuineness, what is real, real for who?
Naked, alone, cold, seeking cover, running but slowing, breathing, slowing,
Tired, numb, grasping, hoping, craving

Just as suddenly, light, a glimmer
Glances ever so slightly, lucid, palatable, gloom slowly fades
Beyond the pale lies celestial fields, rest, stillness
A new season awaits, a new hope rekindled
Awaiting its fullness

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Olympic Protests- Is It Really the Right Venue?

In the years and months leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics much of the non-Chinese world questioned whether or not this was an appropriate host city. China's human rights record was continually being called into question particularly its government's policies toward Tibet and its trade arrangement with Sudan. While these objections certainly may have their validity, I have to wonder in the aftermath of these Olympics if all the calls for nations, leaders, and athletes to boycott these games might not be the appropriate action. I say this after listening to reporter after reporter talk about how gracious and accommodating the Chinese people were during these games and what an incredible job the Chinese did hosting the games. In two weeks time it seemed as if the world, and in particular, some of us westerners were getting a better understanding of who these "strangers" are and what they are all about. The world was able to see, touch, and talk to these people who make up one-fifth of the world's population and not just read about its government and its policies. The world was able to connect with them in a way that had not happened before. Time and time again it seems that the Olympics have a way of uniting the world and instilling in its 6 plus billion people , a sense of hope, hope that maybe we can all rally around a common purpose and see the best in one another. It might only be temporary, I know, nevertheless this hope even if it is short-lived needs to be experienced.

I'm not sure that at a venue like the Olympics, focusing on what divides us is necessarily the best idea. Maybe, the time to talk about differences is after we have had some of our preconceived myths of another dispelled. Maybe the time to talk about differences is after we realize that some of our objections deal with things that we have just very recently changed in our own country or are in the process of changing. Maybe the time to talk about differences is after there has been an infusion of hope.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Surprises Around Every Corner

So, this summer I was supposed to be teaching World History, but a few days before the session started I was destaffed. Apparently, the numbers that were projected were far higher than what they actually turned out to be. Due to my lack of seniority I, along with many others happened to be an odd man out. I was; however, offered a job teaching elementary (not high school) aged students with autism. I must admit it was not something that I wanted to do, but being jobless so late in the game it wasn't like I had any alternatives lined up. So, with reservations I took the "lesser" job.

The job consists of a four week period of half days lasting from 7:30-11:30. But, we're talking about dealing with kids with such severe needs that it almost requires having one adult for every kid in order to maintain safety, stability, civility, and peace. This week was week three and on Wednesday and Thursday I was surprised to see one of my high school students from last year grace me with her presence. (Her aunt happened to be working there and she came in with her because she apparently did not have a whole lot else going on, or at least that is what I thought). This attractive, young fifteen year old blonde, who has a minor learning disability herself did a fairly adequate job of filling the typical dumb blonde stereotype during last school year. But, when she showed up in my elementary autism class this week I saw a completely different person. She came in the room and said hello and proceeded to observe what was going on for about five minutes. She then asked me if I minded if she helped out with the kids. I said sure wanting any help that I could receive yet having no expectations of her having any more success with these kids than I was having. Within minutes though, she was achieving results that I had desired for days, but was unable to remotely come close to. I couldn't believe what I was watching, yet I could not have been more ecstatic. This rather unconfident flaky teen had transformed right before my very eyes into a audacious, effective, and competent teacher. After the school day had ended I praised her for her successful efforts and asked her if this was something that she might consider doing down the road. She admitted that it was.

You know, high school can be such a terrible place, a place where kids put each other and themselves in boxes, and it is usually because they fear rejection or failure. But, when they are in a place where they can feel comfortable enough to be their true selves some beautiful things begin to be birthed. There is a good chance that I will have this girl in my history class again this upcoming school year. I look forward to encouraging her in building on her talents and following her passions. I look forward to doing everything I can to provide a positive atmosphere that is conducive to kids discovering who they are so that they can fulfill all of the potential that lies in them.
Out of the Mouths of 4 Year Olds

Father: "You are the best daughter in the whole world."
Daughter: "Really?" (Said with shock and a twinkle in her eye) Pause. "Well, then I guess I am." (Said matter of factly, could have just as easily said, "Well, duh.")

Father to daughter: "Man, isn't it great when the boy is asleep?"
Daughter: "Yeah, sometimes I just need some peace and quiet."

Saturday, June 07, 2008

800 Meter Run

For the first time in about 15 years, I laced up the shoes to run 800 meters, (that is 2 laps around an outdoor track). This was my best event in high school and a few weeks ago my 29 year-old brother-in-law gave me an opportunity to see what the creaky old legs could do. His high school runners bet him that he could not run an 800 in under two minutes. Now, he is a bonafide track stud, but even for him this was somewhat of a challenge. So, a friendly gathering of high school track athletes, a few college ones, and a handful of ,well, old people took to the track to see what they could do in 90 degree heat.

In preparation for the event, I spent a few weeks doing some old track workouts. As intimidating as they were, the body and mind soon began to remember how much they loved and missed this torture. The feeling of running four to six 200's, and coming out of the turn with a burst of speed (or at least what felt like a burst of speeed) and heading down the homestretch was like drinking from the fountain of youth.

The gun went off, and trying desperately to keep the ego in check, I immediately found myself in last. That was all part of the strategy though, a strategy that involved not biting off more than I could chew and finishing in respectable elder statesmen fashion, that is last, but no so far back that I obtained the dreaded sympathy clap. The strategy paid off and I finished with a decent time of 2 minutes and 19 seconds, about 20 or 21 seconds slower than my all-time best. Moreover, I didn't finish last, I finished second to last and Eric didn't break 2 minutes (he did run a nasty 2:01 though). I guess father time catches up to us all, but I'm still encouraged. I think down the road, I might see if I can try and test the limits of mind and body and try to run a mile in 5:00 or under.
Tuskegee Airmen Visits Westfield

I was fortunate to obtain the contact information for a 90 year old retired Lieutenant Colonel named Walter McCreary. McCreary was one of the first African American fighter pilots . He served in World War II and after being shot down spent time in a German POW camp. His story was quite compelling and he thoroughly enjoyed talking about it and answering the many questions that the 300 or so high school students directed his way. At the end of the Q & A, the students gave him a standing ovation and then thronged him desiring handshakes, autographs, and pictures. It was great to be able to spend time with living history. It was equally great to see kids understand the magnitude of who was before them and what he accomplished. Hats off to the Lt. Col., and hats off to the kids. (Below is the introduction I gave before he spoke).

Good morning Westfield students. If you are here today, it is most likely because you are enrolled in either World History II or US History. For those of you who do not know me I am Mr. Chapman and I am a World History II teacher here at Westfield. After I introduce our speaker, he is going to tell us his story. Once he has completed his story, we are going to have some time to take your questions. So, students and teachers alike be prepared to participate here shortly. Back in February, my classes reached the point in the course where we entered the 20th century. I explained to my students that this was the time some thought that if ever it looked like global civilization might reach its apex, tame all obstacles in its way, and accomplish the most extraordinary achievements of all time it would be in the 1900’s. Unfortunately the 20th century turned out, in many respects, to be somewhat the opposite, for it contained several events which turned the world into a place where civilization came close to the brink of destroying itself. There was the imperialistic mad scramble for Africa as well as European imperialism in places like China and Southeast Asia. In addition to World War I, the Russian Revolution, World War II, the Cold War and a series of other wars that you are all quite familiar with, there were a handful of mass genocides that took place throughout the world. Sometimes, the barbarism and sheer devastation that took place in the 20th century can be quite depressing if you fail to include the positive achievements of some of the century’s best and brightest.

Today’s speaker is one of these best and brightest, an individual who showed tremendous bravery when all of the odds were stacked against him. I am going to quickly say a few words about him, but I want him to be able to take all of the time he needs to tell his own story in his own words. He was raised in San Antonio and had graduated from Tuskegee University in 1940 when he received a draft notice. He already had a civilian pilot's license and signed up for the Tuskegee Army Air Corps program, becoming one of the first pilots of the all-black 100th Fighter Squadron.

He was shipped overseas in January 1944 and was based outside Naples. He flew 89 missions in the P-39, the P-47 and the P-51. (This would be roughly double the number of missions that the average white pilot would fly). His story is quite extraordinary and as a result people in high places took notice. The highest honor that Congress can award a civilian is the Congressional Gold Medal. Past recipients include: George Washington, Ulysses Grant, Charles Lindbergh, Thomas Edison, Jonas Salk, Winston Churchill, Jesse Owens, Mother Theresa, Elie Wiesel, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King. Today’s speaker along with many other Tuskegee airmen was also awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in March of 2007. Someone once said, “In the long history of humankind there have been those selfless beings who in the face of opposition allowed their lives to represent more than their own existence.” We have here at Westfield High School one of these selfless beings in our midst today. He faced opposition on all sides, not only from the Axis Powers, but from his own government, from his own military, and from his own countrymen who treated him and other African American military personnel like second class citizens before, during, and even after their military service. Yet, he and other Tuskegee Airmen were instrumental in helping to spearhead a movement for civil rights that would go on to change the hearts and minds of a nation that needed desperately to have its hearts and minds changed. The world becomes a better place when such people allow their lives to represent more than their own existence. Sir, it is an honor and a delight to have you here with us this morning. Would you please give a warm welcome to the Retired Lieutenant Colonel Walter McCreary?

Friday, February 29, 2008

Living the Dream

In my last post I mentioned that I consider it a privilege to be surrounded by my fifteen and sixteen year old students and how I am essentially living a dream. As I say these words, I feel quite cheesy and feel like I am being contrary to my cynical side which I feel quite comfortable with. But, if the truth be told, in reality I really am living a dream. About five years ago, I was 30 years old and living the “good life” in K-Town. I had a decent job and was making quite a bit of money. I had a beautiful new house on a nice piece of land. I planned on having this house paid off in ten years by paying extra payments every month. While I didn’t hate or dread this job that involved sales and management, I was by no means satisfied with it. During slow periods, say on many weekdays, I would stare out the front window into the parking lot and daydream. I dreamed about standing in front of a classroom of high school students and teaching them about history and about life. The students were nameless and faceless, but they were very real to me.

During this time, there were several factors that led to me making drastic changes in my life. As I had begun to become increasingly disillusioned with the nature of church and the ministry I became open to new paths for my life. For some time I had been having a recurring dream. I regularly dreamt that I was back in college and was taking fifteen hours. Time and time again, I would get down to the last couple of weeks of the semester, and it would dawn on me that I had forgotten to attend one of the five classes. The dream used to wake me startled and agitated and the dream stayed persistent for several years.

In addition to this dream, I stumbled upon two powerful quotes that refused to leave my consciousness. The first quote is “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I knew that a sales and management career might ultimately lead to financial gain, but I knew that I would be starved and parched by remaining in that field. I wanted to teach and impact the lives of kids, but it didn’t seem possible at the time. I began reading another book and read the following quote from T.E. Lawrence (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia): “All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the morning to find it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they dream their dreams with eyes wide open, and make them possible.” This quote both inspired and haunted me. How could I remain in the “easy life”, when I was being called to something else? I knew that I had to begin closing the gap between the dream and reality. I had to become a dreamer of the day and make this vision possible. This was difficult because it required not only a career change, but the relocating of my family and a venture back to college, something I was not exactly thrilled about doing. It also involved financial sacrifice, and more importantly the postponing of the dreams and passions that resided in the heart of my wife. Nevertheless, it came down to sucking it up or living a life of frustration and discontent. Perhaps, the Almighty gave me the courage to choose the former. After several years of schooling (much of which was bureaucratic bullsh*t), I have begun to see the fruit of my labors.

I can now say that the recurring dream stopped years ago. The faceless now have faces, the nameless now have names. They are my kids and I care deeply about them and their futures. Do they drive me crazy at times? Absolutely. But, how can you beat bluntly telling a girl several weeks ago that she was selfish and having her respond “You’re right.” Since then she has befriended a new girl that gets on her last nerve and has encouraged another girl to come after school to get extra help with me. How can you beat having a lazy, unmotivated male do nothing all year and then come after school and diligently bust his butt for two and a half hours to get caught up? I read the following words from Anais Nin last week that reminded me of this young man: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was greater than the risk it took to blossom.” He is so close to realizing his potential, the greatness that lies inside him, and if I can just play a small part in pulling that potential out, if I can just play a small part in helping that blossoming to take place than how can I not be ecstatic? How can I not feel vindicated in having pushed through and followed the dream to its fruition? How cannot I not feel humbled that my obedience has lead to helping others discover their talents and passions? While I am beginning to fulfill this dream, I feel that new ones are welling up in me. Their fulfillment may be years down the road, but I have confidence in knowing that they are possible. I have gratitude in my heart knowing that I live in a country that affords me the opportunity to fulfill these dreams, when many people all over the world cannot fulfill the longings of their heart, due to poverty, etc... Gratitude, and yes guilt because it doesn’t seem fair. I don’t know what to do about that though. In any case, I guess I will continue to strive to do what I can do to make this world a better place. (O.K., I think I’m going to go vomit now, as this is too sappy and hopeful sounding! What is happening to me, ugh!)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Unsung Heroes from History

I am at that point in the year with my World History classes where we head into the 20th century. We begin with Imperialism and then cover World War I, the Russian Revolution, Between the Wars (Great Depression included), World War II (Holocaust included), the Cold War, and other issues such as Indian independence and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Sounds quite encouraging, doesn’t it? I told these tenth graders of mine that we were going to be covering some pretty heavy stuff and that I would be informing them of some historical facts that are not necessarily mentioned in their textbook. I told them my purpose in doing this was not to be sensational but to explain accurately the “losers” side of the story. I also told them that I was going to strive this year to try and bring out more of the positive contributions that were made by unsung heroes in regard to many of these human rights abuses that have taken place over the last one hundred years.

Today, I lectured about King Leopold II and the Belgians “colonization” (insert rape and/or theft here) of the Congo. After discussing, the European reasons for seeking to get a “slice of this magnificent African cake” (nationalism, raw materials for industrialization, social Darwinism) I went into an explanation of how the Congolese were taken hostage and forced to extract the hardened sap from the abundance of rubber trees that existed there. Women were taken hostage until the men came back from arduous labor that involved climbing trees often a hundred feet high. The women were then sold back to the men (after having been raped), if and only if they returned with their quota fulfilled. If quotas were not fulfilled, consequences were often dire and included severe beatings with a chicotte, and even severed hands and feet. Small children were often not exempt from such punishments either. For a detailed discussion of these and other egregious atrocities, and more so for a compelling story overall I recommend reading this.

While this barbarity was transpiring, not everyone turned a blind eye. Enter one Roger Casement, a British consul stationed in Leopoldville. Casement began exposing the human rights abuses that were taking place in the Congo. His discoveries would lead to parliament taking control of the Congo from Leopold. To make a long story short, Casement’s eventual involvement with the movement for Irish independence got him into trouble with the Germans and he was captured and put on trial for high treason.

In his last days, he spoke in his own defense saying, “Self-government is our right. A thing born in us at birth; a thing no more to be doled out to us or withheld from us by another people than the right to life itself- than the right to feel the sun or smell the flowers, or to love our kind…. Where men must beg with bated breath for leave to subsist in their own land, to think their own thoughts, to sing their own songs, to garner the fruits of their own labours… then surely it is braver, a saner and a truer thing, to be a rebel… than tamely to accept it as the natural lot of men.” And in one of his last letters Casement wrote: “I made awful mistakes, and did heaps of things wrong and failed at much- but… the best thing was the Congo.”

I went on to talk about how all men die, but not all men truly live and I spoke about how Edmund Burke said that the only thing needed for evil to triumph was for good men to do nothing. I praised Casement’s courage and showed him to be an example for all of us.

For the first time in four years of teaching I saw 15 year olds that were completely riveted and hanging on every word I spoke, as I talked about how each and every one of us in that room had a responsibility to find out what drives us and make us tick. I implored all of us to live our lives in such a way that we could take our last breath and know that we had lived as Casement did in focused pursuit of righting wrongs and helping others. I told them that I didn’t just want them to become better students, but to become better people aware of what is currently going on in the world related to human rights abuses. It was reinforced to me through this class that it is a must that I regularly make dead people come alive and inspire purpose and hope in this next generation. I consider it a privilege to be surrounded by these kids as I continue to live a dream (more on that later).