the tale of a tetovierer

Who has inflicted this upon us?
Who has made us Jews different from all other people?
Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up till now?
It is God that has made us as we are,
but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again.
If we bear all this suffering and if there are still Jews left,
when it is over, then Jews, instead of being doomed,
will be held up as an example.

Anne Frank


(image of some of the children in Auschwitz holding up their arms to a cameraman,
showing the tattooed number on their arms / BBC)

I am not a fan of tattoos.

I’m just not nor have I ever been.

And this coming from a retired art teacher who had many an aspiring tattoo artist
in class.

I truly believe that what one finds grand, fascinating, bold as well as defining
at say age 18, will not hold the same sense of fascination, boldness nor still
be defining at say age 58…

Plus I can’t help but see a good bit of an underlying psychology underneath a
need to permanently “ink” ones’ body…..

But hey, that’s just me.

It’s obviously not the rest of our culture’s or society’s mindset….
I’m just a one hole pierced earring sort of girl….

I like things understated and simple really…elegant, ageless and timeless.
I blame my grandmother…thankfully.

I grew up with many Jewish friends.
I attended Synagogue with them as they came to church with me.
I feel a deep connection to our Jewish brethren as I happen to
claim one of their own as my Savior.

Yet in all my years, I never knew nor had met anyone who had been a survivor
of the Death Camps.

I knew many a WWII veteran but never an individual who lived to tell the
horrific nightmare of having lived when one was expected to die…

I knew Vietnam Veterans and even POWs of that war, but none from
those infamous Death Camps of a previous war.

So I have never seen an aged wrinkled arm that bears the fading yet distinct
numbers of one’s time spent surviving death.

I did a pencil drawing once of a portion of a forearm and hand…
It was a man’s arm and hand.
There was a number scrawled on the inner wrist running about an inch and a half
lengthwise up the forearm–along with an inch wide hole piercing all the way through
the palm of the hand…
the backdrop was what one would assume to be a rough hewn piece of wood….

His death, the death of the man whose arm I had drawn, had not been in vain and
had not been for but a select few…it had been for all…
as He had been there, in their midst, with all those who had those numbers
inked onto their arms, despite many Jews to this day truly believing that God
had abandoned them during the Shoah …

The biblical word Shoah (which has been used to mean “destruction” since
the Middle Ages) became the standard Hebrew term for the murder of European Jewry
as early as the early 1940s. The word Holocaust,
which came into use in the 1950s as the corresponding term,
originally meant a sacrifice burnt entirely on the altar.
The selection of these two words with religious origins reflects recognition
of the unprecedented nature and magnitude of the events.
Many understand Holocaust as a general term for the crimes and horrors
perpetrated by the Nazis;
others go even farther and use it to encompass other acts of mass murder as well. Consequently, we consider it important to use the Hebrew word Shoah with
regard to the murder of and persecution of
European Jewry in other languages as well.

Yad Vashem

And so I never gave much thought as to those tattooed numbers on those forearms.
I never thought about who was charged with having to “write” them…
I never thought about when exactly it was, during the ordeal,
that they had received them…
And how odd that I had never known anyone who had endured what it meant to have one.

The other day I caught a story with a rather interesting title….
The Tattooist of Auschwitz–and his secret love

Visions of today’s tattoo artists in my mind is of an individual who
themselves is covered in various images and colors, electric pen in hand…
a master of a cultural craft.

Throw in the notion of a secret love and all manner of clandestine activities
suface in one’s imagination.

Clicking on the story, I am met with the tale of a man and of the life
he lived and of an age-long sense of heaviness for having betrayed the
millions who did not survive.
I believe that is called survivors guilt.

And yet in this tale there is found love, loss, rediscovering, life, hope….
and finally a sense of understanding that there was no culpability for
simply having survived.

The story is set in Melbourne, Australia…
a far cry from a Death Camp in 1940’s Poland.
And the hero of this tale actually died in 2006.
It took him until he was well into his 80’s to even be able to share his story…
much of which his now grown son had not known. Not many who survived liked to
talk about their stay.

The story is of Ludwig “Lale” Eisenberg who later changed his name to
Lale Sakolov.

Lale’s story was coaxed out of his memory by Heather Morris
who has since written a book The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Lale was a Slovak Jew who, like the other Jews in Czechoslovakia, was sent
to Auschwitz.
He was 26 years old.
He did manual labor at the camp until he contracted typhoid.
He was cared for by a Frenchman who had actually been the one who had
tattooed Lale’s number on his arm 32407.
The man was known as in the camp as a tetovierer, or tattooist.
He was charged with “writing” the numbers onto the arms of those coming into
the camp who would be staying—those being sent immediately to the gas chambers.
did not receive numbers.

Eventually Lale became the tetovierer to the camp.

Yet in the middle of madness and death, love was actually kindled.

An 18 year old girl found herself standing before Lale…one in a myriad of women
waiting in the long line…
waiting their turn to exchange a life and a name for a number.

Lale did not like tattooing the women—there was always a sickening feeling in
the pit of his stomach, but he did as he was ordered.

Gazing up at this girl who stood before him, his heart was immediately taken
by this girl’s bright eyes.
Her name was Gita.

Gita and Lale’s life together actually began that fateful day in Auschwitz–
and the twists and turns are amazing…

There is a lovely video clip on Heather’s kickstarter page that she put together—
which I assume was created to help raise the necessary funds to write and publish
Lale and Gita’s story.
The book is now available on Amazon…I ordered mine today.

Below are two links—
the first is Heather’s story along with a brief video overview about her finding
and forging a relationship with Lale, who would eventually share his story with her.

The second link is about the story as written by the BBC.

For even in the midst of misery and death, remains hope…there is always Hope.

http://www.bbc.com/news/stories-42568390

I marvel

“When we try to pick out anything by itself,
we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

John Muir

nervous-system-diseases
(medical chart of the human nervous system)

Sitting in the Orthopedic’s examining room, my eyes immediately gravitated to
one of those medical illustrations charts of the spine hanging a bit skewed on the
wall opposite of my gaze.

As a former art teacher, I always take notice of those medical charts in whatever
doctor’s office I may find myself.
I had several students who ventured into the field of medical illustration.
A fascinating field for those who are gifted artistically and love attention
to detail.

We had our own life-size skeletal model in the classroom, along with a vast array of animal skulls and bones…all of which were featured in many a student’s masterpiece.

So with this time I found on my hands as I sat in that little room with its skewed spinal illustration,
as I waited between x-rays and exam, my mind naturally went to wandering….

Perhaps we should be reminded that all living beings are made up of systems…

With there being 11 recognized systems within the human body:

The skeletal system
The nervous system
The circulatory system
The respiratory system
The digestive system
The excretory system
The endocrine system
The immune system
The muscular system
The reproductive system
The integumentary system

The intricacies within these systems…of how they work in tandem and
make a living being just that, living…
is nothing short of miraculous.

Detail and the mastery of placement, per each function,
is beyond comprehension.

As the pain in my hip and leg continued vying for my weary attention,
my thoughts marveled at the way the full nervous systems,
which is currently giving me fits, operates.

With the very image, such as the picture above,
being nothing less than a roadmap of life,
such is the visual imagery of the very act of living,
along with all of its intertwined responses…is simply amazing

Most of these systems go unnoticed and greatly under appreciated…
that is until there’s a problem

Ask any couple desperately trying to conceive a child and they can
most likely tell you first hand, in minute detail,
how the reproductive system can have a malfunction for either sex.

These mostly forgotten systems become front and center when there is a glitch
or something goes haywire or some outside force causes havoc…

Ask anyone who has been in an accident, fallen, or played a sport.
A system one day forgotten and taken for granted is suddenly forced
in full sight when there’s something gone awry.

So as I sat, waiting for someone to come into the exam room
in order to dig a little deeper into two systems whose warning lights are flashing,
I couldn’t help but ponder over all that goes into making us, us…

It escapes me as to how anyone can look at these interwoven systems and networks,
coursing in, out and around our bodies, and not see the hand of God…

You just can’t tell me all of these systems, with their interworking and interplays…
just happened to evolve into non duplicable entities…..

Try as hard as man does to indeed duplicate it all—he will always fall short.

Because buried deep in the center of all these systems resides a very piece of the Divine, Himself…

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.

Psalm 139: 13-16

it’s high time we all suck it up

“Life is not a problem to be solved,
but a reality to be experienced.”

― Søren Kierkegaard

DSCN1211
(medival painting of St Christopher and the Christ Child / artist unknown but it looks like a Bosch contemporary if you ask me / Adare Manor, County Limerick, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

The painting above, along with it’s beautiful ornate frame,
is really quite lovely is it not?

It is a piece that belongs to a private country manor estate in Ireland…
an estate that has been turned into an exquisite hotel and golf resort.

I, the average guest, would not have been able to enjoy seeing the piece had the hotel
thought to place the painting in storage,
hide it in some backroom office…
or carte it off to the attic as it depicts the image of
St Christopher carrying the Christ Child.

There is debate as to whether or not St Christopher ever existed.
There are even some circles that have decided to “un” saint this said Christopher…
Add to that, that here is a display of an image of the Christ child–
would we want non-believing guests to be offended by its presence?

So perhaps St Christopher’s painting should be altogether removed……

But before you begin to cry foul,
we will return to that thought in a minute…
However… let’s first chat about a little current event article shall we….

The following article, which I read yesterday on Fox News, got this art teacher’s knickers in a huge twist.

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/08/11/historic-paintings-moved-to-controlled-campus-rooms-after-university-finds-them-harmful.html

In a nutshell, the article tells the tale about a college in Wisconsin that has been home to several paintings, 80 years old or older, that depict white fur traders / trappers (most likely French Canadian trappers) alongside a group of Native American Indians.

These paintings are indicative of a time in which the northern regions of this country, all along the Canadian border, were rife with white European fur traders, trapping, buying and selling furs as they encountered both hostile and hospitable Indian tribes who happened to call that area home.

It seems that a student diversity group has taken offense to the paintings…
paintings that have hung rather ambiguously on display at this college for many decades.
The issue being…
that the paintings show the Native American Indians in a subservient role to the white trappers.

“The controversy over the artwork began when the school’s Diversity Leadership Team complained the paintings were offensive to Native American students and promoted acts of “domination and oppression.”

They have demanded that the paintings be removed.

ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME??????!!!!!!

The College President, doing the dance of all things politically correct thinks he’s struck
a win / win by removing the pictures from public view, moving them to a private office
while noting that anyone wishing to see the paintings, may make an appointment.

Again, Are You Freaking Kidding Me????!!!!

How would one know to make an appointment if one did not know the paintings existed in the first place?

Hence why we hang art….
to share with the public.

I would think a public institution can and should hang its art publicly for the tax paying public to enjoy…..

Sigh…

This is about the most asinine thing I thing I think I’ve finally read, heard and seen in this on-going madness of our overtly PC now loving world.

We have birthed a nation of now the thinnest skinned people on the planet.

Our Millennials and Generation X kids need to learn to suck it up.

Just as we, the older generations, need to do the same by putting our collective feet down to say—
“hold up there…
You wait just one minute now before you have a temper tantrum over things you consider
to be poor taste…
as that’s not poor taste…
that is simply put, history…

As in…
that was then,
that’s how it was…

Like it or not.

You need to get over it…
Take it for what it was…
Learn from it…
And see it for what it was…
NOT for what it is through your current lenses of today…

As in…
That’s what and how it was in that particular time and place…
Let’s look rather at how far we’ve come!…
How far we’ve come to today,
THIS time and place….
Rejoice that we have come this far…
So far that we now have the descendants of those “subservient Native American’s”
currently enrolled in school, right alongside you!…”

History, our history as a people, is as fabulous as it is sinister.
There is both good and bad.
And that is that.

And just because we have what some wish to consider to be a most open minded society…
one that is all about all things tolerant…
on the flip side of that overt tolerance is the fact that we can’t seem to tolerate our less then stellar moments of the past.

How’s that for your 21st century ying and yang?

If you want to get mad about how Native American Indians have been treated as a whole by this great Nation of ours, you may just want to read Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown.
That 1970 published tale that explores the systematic decline of Native Americans at the hands of a growing nation comprised of white European settlers alongside their black African slaves…

As it actually starts with the germ warfare introduced by Christopher Columbus and company…

But oh, forgive me, let me be correct…. Christopher Columbus is his anglicized name,
since he was Italian we should us his Italian name, Cristoforo Colombo…
but since he sailed under the Spanish flag, then maybe we should use his Spanish pronunciation
as we do wish to be oh so correct….Cristóbal Colón

See how stupid this can all become….???

And we just keep letting it get more and more stupid by the minute.

Rather than turn from our history, those parts that can make our modern learned skin crawl,
or turn our history into some watered down bland and benign mush,
we need to see it for what it is, what it was—a time of then..
not a time of now.

I’ve said this before, our 21st century lenses cannot wipe away those events,
those times and moments that would not and could not happen today
because we now consider ourselves too smart,
too educated,
too tolerant to have ever allowed such to take place….

We cannot ignore what happened,
what was wrong,
what should not have been…
For we cannot strike it from our past by ignoring it,
hiding it,
removing it,
pretending that it has nothing to do with us…
because that’s exactly what it was…
It was us!

That was us then…
it is not us now….

We cannot hide what we were.
Because what we were, has made us who were are today..
And we have learned to be better by our grievous mistakes and injustices.

We learn by our past.
If you sterilize your past,
white wash it,
sugar coat it,
distance yourself so far from it—
you are opening a vacuum for repetition.
Mark my words…

So, back to the painting of St Christopher ….
Or should we say, Ágios Christóforos which is the Greek wording…
as debates rage at to where St Christopher, or Christ Bearer as Christopher means in Latin,
was born–some say it was Canaan, but he is first mentioned as being in Greece and assumed Grecian…
but some say he was originally known as Reprobus…
He was martyred by either one of the Roman Emperors Decius or Maximus II Dacian…
And he may actually be the martyred Egyptian Saint Menas…
…confused yet?

The story of whoever Christopher may or may not have been is not the important issue…
The important component is that he had an encounter with Christ and from that moment,
he was never the same…
just as others who encounter Christ are never the same…
It was from that encounter that he then traveled to minister those who were being martyred
for their faith—bringing encouragement and comfort…
as he too would be eventually martyred…

And so we have history–
martyrs of faith then
and
martyrs of faith now…
History we can’t seem to easily erase away

History on a continum…
both good and bad…
and the question is, are we learning…

Pope Paschal I, Iconoclasm and hospitality

rome-santa-prassede-apse-mosaic-pope-paschal-i-st-paul-and-st-praxedis-or-pudentiana_medium
(detail from the mosaic tiled ceiling in the Church of Santa Prassede, Rome, Italy of Pope Paschal 1)

9467-santa-cecilia-trastevere-rome-apse-mosaic-valerian
(a small detail of the mosaic tiled ceiling of St Cecilia’s Church Trastevere, Rome– of Saints Valerian and Cecilia–a church founded by Pope Paschal I)

February 11th, in the Catholic Church, is noted as the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes. Undoubtedly we’ve all heard of Lourdes, that small town in extreme southern France with the mystical healing waters and the grotto dedicated to the Virgin and of her apparitions to the young peasant girl Bernadette. . . even those of us non Catholics and the most jaded among us are familiar with Lourdes. . .but who, I wonder, has heard of Pope, or should I note saint, Paschal I? — even those die hard hagiographers, those who study the lives of the saints, no doubt gloss over this lesser known saint who sits among the giants of the church.

Yet it must be noted that February 11th is also the feast day Pope Paschal 1

Why in the world would a little known pope from the 9th century, who reigned as pope for approximately 8 short years, be of any consequence to us today?
Good question.
Pope Paschal I is but a blip on the historical map of an ancient church whose history spans 2 thousand years. Some of the popes have certainly been anything but virtuous—more along the lines of scoundrels and scalawags which leaves many modern day observers, especially those of us who are not members of the Catholic Church, wondering why in the world these people (Catholics) would ever venerate, let alone consider to be of any significance, many of these unscrupulous, lecherous, self indulgent men.

Now I cannot comment upon the virtuous life of or lack thereof for Pope Paschal I.
Little is known.
He was born in Rome and served as Pope form 817- 824. His pontificacy is laced with a bit of intrigue and questions of complicity to executions, all of which lead church members, at the time of his death, to not allow the burial of his body to take place in St Peters.
Certainly sounds a bit scandalous.

It is however of one particular incident, of rather some significant importance, which has lead me to dig a bit deeper into the history of this man whose feast day the Church celebrates today. It is upon closer study that one learns that Pope Paschal I was head of the Latin Church (the western branch of Christianity) during a period known as the Byzantine Iconoclasm—or simply the time of The Iconoclast.

A dark time in history when many fanatical members of the Eastern branch of Christianity, including Emperor Leo III, decided that any and all images (Icons, statues, paintings, mosaics. . .) of God, Christ, and other Holy and sacred individuals were considered sinful, idolatry, and must be destroyed— along with many of the artists, owners as well as those who venerated such images. A dark time of vast persecution of a people who had loved the sacred images and had used them as part of their very deep personal services. Photographs, as it were, of a Savior for a people who wanted, and continue to want, to put a face with that of the Mysterious. Do we not still yearn for such images today?

It is in these dark times of such fanatical ignorance, which has been laced throughout much of the history of mankind, that I believe is one of man’s greatest faults. As an art educator and humble historian, the destruction of various Cultures and their artifacts, which simply boils down to the pure essence of the identity of a people is, in my humble opinion, catastrophic.

This ancient sort of destructive “out of sight out of mind” feeding frenzy has actually played out throughout much of history with a few of the more notable and infamous being that of the Italian Dominican monk Savonarola and his Bonfire of the Vanities, to more recent times with the book burnings of the Nazi’s during the early 1940’s, to the more recent destruction of the giant ancient carvings in Afghanistan, those known as the Buddhas of Bamiyan, by the Taliban in 2001. A warped mindset that if the powerful can simply destroy the “things” and or creations of a certain people, then the people will also cease to exist. History teaches us that perseverance is more than things..

Pope Paschal I was a sympathizer to those members of the Eastern Orthodox church who not only created the sacred art images but to those who continued to want to display such in churches and in homes. He afforded those who fled the persecution in Greece and Turkey a safe haven. He actually encouraged the creation of mosaics and other sacred art by these individuals in many of the churches in Rome. This during a time of great divide between the two Churches.

This little known Pope overlooked the differences of the two bickering arms of a single faith in order to offer hospitality to those victims of persecution. It is because of the very amnesty offered by and of the preservation afford to such treasured pieces of the Christian faith by such individuals as Pope Paschal I and those long forgotten monks who smuggled many of the sacred images to remote monasteries such as St Catherine’s’ in the southern Sinai Peninsula, that those of us today may glance upon images that date to the very inception of our faith.

So on this Tuesday, February 11, may we be reminded of the lesser known names in the annuals of a history, who, such as Pope Paschal I, have helped to preserve important pieces to the puzzle of our past. To those who have demonstrated moments of brave compassion by offering safety to those suffering the persecution of faith.

Hospitality, compassion, benevolence—words to take to heart on this chilly February morning.

Hospitality means we take people into the space that is our lives and our minds and our hearts and our work and our efforts. Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step towards dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn a prejudiced world around, one heart at a time.
Sister Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B

Purple, the color

DSCN0561

“Color! What a deep and mysterious language, the language of dreams.”
Paul Gauguin

Purple is not exactly my favorite color. I don’t think I own any purple clothing nor is it a color I gravitate to on a paint palette. Purple does play out, however, so beautifully in nature—be it a striated sunset full of deep blues and purples accented with tiny glistening starlight, giving way to rich crimsons and burnt orange…

Or perhaps it is found in a sweet demure violet, or a perky morning glory…or in my yard, the formidable southern hydrangea which can’t make up it’s mind or determine its proper PH level—hovering between shades of blue and purple. My blue hydrangea bush is predominately blue, but there are those persnickety blooms, obviously dreaming of their royal lineage, with a refusal of cooperation, daring to turn various shades of purple. Sticking out like a sore thumb as it were……

I shouldn’t mind their independent stance of color choice as purple has quite a rich history. It is a secondary color achieved from an equal combination of two primary colors (colors I always call “God given” as they are not achieved from the mixing of any other colors)—Red + Blue—hot + cold—equaling out to a cool color with a warm presence. It is a color preferred, believe it or not, by males…but add a bit more red and then it is the woman who turns her head in favor…..

It was a color used in imperial Rome—an expensive color to achieve, therefore looked upon favorably by those who could afford such. It was made from the mucus secreted by the spiny dye-murex snail. Laborious and painstaking to make. Kind of gross I know when you think of what must happen with the snails… and it is no wonder, therefore, as to its expense. And since it was equated with those who could afford it, which were the nobility of both government and church, it became known as the color of royalty. Most liturgical based churches today use purple during Lent most often to drape the cross and clergy will usually don purple vestments during the Lenten period.

It’s history is quite extensive, which I simply don’t have time to explore this morning, but it does indeed deserve attention and respect, as do all of the colors of the spectrum. This old art teacher will, I promise, one day give you a true color lesson but however, for this Tuesday, I must acquiesce to my cantankerous blooms, yielding to their insistence toward their royal due and bid them a loyal bow….

Seeking Yellow

DSC00387

Being the resident art teacher, I happen to know that the color yellow, which is the first color the eye registers, in small doses, can bring about a sense of happiness and/ or cheer.
On this oh so very cold, blustery, snow speckled day of late March–I had to find some yellow!!!!!
Use sparingly 🙂
(PS they are Meyer Lemons–an orange skin gives way to the deep yellow interior)

An Isolationist’s tale

Where can I go from Thy Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Thy Presence?
If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there.
If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Thy hand will lead me,
And Thy right hand will lay hold of me.
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to Thee,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to Thee.
For Thou didst form my inward parts;
Thou didst weave me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to Thee, for I am
Fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Thy works,
And my soul knows it very well.
Psalm 139: 7-14

I must confess to you that I am actually quite the homebody (aka- Isolationist). I know what you’re thinking…how can that be when all I seem to write about is traveling here, there and yon. But that’s the irony in my life, I love traveling, seeing the big, as well as the small cities— and yet I am a homebody, relishing in the quiet of often being home alone. Sometimes these dichotomies clash creating internal near panic attacks.

I like traveling with my immediate family. If something were to, God forbid, happen, say like the plane blowing up and fall from the sky (did I fail mentioning that I am also a bit of a fatalist?), we’d all be together, it would be okay. But say I’m off on some adventure alone, my mind begins playing all sorts of devilish tricks on me, often times almost ruining potential blessings and the adventure itself.

I’ve always called my dad “Eeyore”, the little blue donkey from Winnie the Pooh. In that oh so monotone deadpan of voices, Eeyore always laments, “oh no, we’ll never make it” –“end of the road, nothing to do, no hope of it getting better….” That is my dad to a tee—so maybe this doomsday worry has been ingrained since my childhood.

Now this is not to say I am a negative person—not on the outside anyway. Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that my glass is always half full. I try to be everybody’s cheerleader—miss polyanna positive—and I believe it all, that is– for them. When it comes to me on the other hand, the plane is going to fall out of the sky, the chain saw murderer is going to find me, my tires are the ones that will explode….the litany of woe goes on and on. No way to live, I agree with you there. How can a devout Christian feel this way you ask? —Satan always knows how to find weak spots, the underbelly, and goes for it/them every time—I’m no exception.

So a couple of summers ago I was having to fly out to New Mexico for a week of IB training for school. By myself. I prefer safety in numbers…at least one other person/ teacher I know …I don’t even have to like them. I am an independent person, on so many levels, but not all levels unfortunately—I wish I was, but alas. I’m not one to go to a restaurant alone. I do go shopping to the mall, the grocery store, etc… all the time by myself. It usually helps if I have a mission or a purpose. But to just up and go to a restaurant or even some sort of function by myself—what would I do? What would I look at? Who would I talk to?
See? Not good.

People who know me always find this hard to believe —that I am actually quite shy. Maybe that’s why I’ve always expressed myself better in writing than in face-to-face conversation. Some people see my quietness, in new situations, as my being a bit standoffish, snobbish, and maybe even arrogant. Trust me, it’s anything but…. I’m usually just silently dying on the inside.

I get all nervous. I don’t know what to say. I stumble and fumble over my words. What I do say makes me often feel as if I’m coming across as a bit of an idiot. Again, bosses and colleagues who know me would disagree, (but not those truly close dear friends, they know the truth and they still love me) but I’ve become a master of faking it—and it helps getting older as it seems to get easier. I can get up in front of a classroom of kids any day but put me up in a room full of adults and I die a slow internal death. C’est la vie.

So when it came time for me to fly solo out west, I was none too happy. I’d have to sit alone in the Albuquerque airport for 3 hours until the shuttle buses came along taking all the IB teachers, who were slowly gathering form all parts of the world, for the hour and a half haul to the small town in which we were heading for the training. Did I mention this was mid July, New Mexico, a college dorm, for a week, with no air conditioning? “Could it get any better” I Eeyored to myself.

Upon arrival at the airport, I went to fetch my luggage. There was a desk where the IB teachers could stash their luggage while waiting on the shuttle bus. I grabbed something to eat, alone. When it came time to make our way to the bus, a cute, little teacher from Arkansas spotted me. The southern accent was welcomed. She made a beeline in my direction. Introduced herself as an English teacher (I can spot and English teacher a mile away) — she thought I, too, was an English teacher. Her enthusiasm seemed to wane a bit when I told her I was an Art teacher. Plus I wasn’t nearly as bubbly or effervescent as she was…

Every principal I have ever worked for, and there have been 9, thought I was a dead ringer for an English teacher—not an Art teacher. One of these many principals told me as much. When he noticed the question in my stare, he explained that I didn’t dress like an art teacher, I actually had undergarments. Now I was really staring and wasn’t certain as to what I was to say in response. I suppose it is good thing that it must be apparent that I believe in undergarments. All I can think is that perhaps he once had an art teacher who worked for him who was a throw back to Woodstock and was an aging hippie. Aging hippies still trying the sport “the look,” not a pretty site—too much moves south and needs extra support!

I struck up a conversation with this Razorback English teacher and her fellow English teacher friend from Arkansas (how nice that she had a cohort). I sat with the friend on the bus for the long haul up into the mountains of New Mexico. The Razorback teacher sat with a French fellow from Canada who spoke very little English but who taught English. Interesting.

I was very nervous about the rooming situation. My school is great making certain their traveling teachers have nice facilities in which to stay and private rooms if at all possible. My fear however was that even though we requested a private room, this is a “college,” a dorm room…. oh dear Lord. Wonder if I get some strange roommate? Wonder if I do what I say I do not do, but my husband says I do do—perhaps a light snore…dear me.

As the 3 busloads of teachers made the way in for check-in, I was fortunate and did have a room by myself. However, it was in the lower campus dorms. Not up in the pretty old gothic type main building where these Razorback teachers were privileged to stay. The lower dorms were 187 steps down, down massive stone steps, seemingly miles away from the main building and the dinning hall. It was time this Georgia flatlander got into shape, as I would have to climb up and down these stairs no less than 3 to 4 times daily! The only saving grace was that my “classroom” for training, the Art room, was down in the “gully” along with my room.

As I do not look like the typical art teacher, my demeanor is also not that of a typical art teacher. I was to spend a week with some pretty intense hard-core art teachers from all over the world. Art for Art’s sake folks. Where as I do love art, the teaching of art, the making of art, etc, I tend to be a bit more academic in my approach and not so “artsy” or freethinking and freewheeling. I am more controlled.

I suppose this is apparent upon first meeting me. I am serious no frills. Not cutesy. More meticulous and focused—not flighty or scattered. But I suppose I look more like a suburban housewife— which I am, who also happens to be a life long educator. Oh the dichotomies! My “look” does not ingratiate me on artsy folks as I come across too conservative in a not so conservative field. That’s okay. I can hang with the best of them.

I don’t remember exactly how I met them. I don’t remember if it was down in the “south 40” dorms or when I made my way to supper. But meet them I did. And I am today, the better for it. More about “them” in a minute.

On the first morning, I was up at 5. It was hot as hell in the little dorm room—nary a breeze to be had. This was the summer of the massive wildfires in New Mexico so depending on when and if the wind blew, there was foreboding in the air. Before departing for the trip I had hoped for a cancellation due to the fires but God is always a step (usually thousands of steps) ahead of my Eeyore self—thank goodness!!

I had not slept and felt nervous and depressed. At breakfast I heard that there were bats up in the tower of the old building where the Razorback teachers were staying. I felt slight vindication for my gully dorm. But later in the week we were warned to be careful as mountain lions were coming down out of the hills due to the fires and we would need to be careful at night walking down to our lower dorms. Grrreat.

During the first morning in the Art room, we sat in a large circle. We went around the room introducing ourselves. Usually in a situation like this, when you’re thrown in with about 25 strangers, you can usually spot one or two like-minded souls. Not so here. At one point I was telling one of the other art teachers about a program we had started back home for our “at risk” kids, the socially disadvantaged student—a backpack program to provide food for these kids over the weekends.

One rather combative teacher overhead my conversation and, suddenly, I hear from across the room “how, come it’s got to be the socially disadvantaged? I take offense at that!” “Are you kidding me?” I’m thinking. Here I was attempting to make small talk about a positive program our school had going on and someone across the room “attacks” me over the wording. I explain those were not my words but rather the wording my school chooses and there was certainly no denying these kids were impoverished—as a good soldier, I always make certain I follow procedure from my school, and here was to be no exception.

Things were now suddenly a bit tense and became awkward for those milling about. Great. I’ve just gotten off to a great start. I’m obviously not artsy like all of them and now they think I’m some sort of idiot. As Divine kindness intervened, later that day, one of the other art teachers from her school came over to me and told me to disregard this woman (no names as to protect all those innocents out there ☺), as she often came across like that. What a fun week this was going to be. I didn’t fit in with these art teachers and now one was wanting to spill my blood and I could be eaten by a mountain lion. Great. Plus it was hot as hell.

But back to “them.” I met two really wonderful women. They too were “living” down in the gully dorms. One was a younger teacher, in her early 30 from Ohio. She was an English teacher. The other one was 60ish, a French teacher at the American Boarding School south of London—England of all places. Like I say I don’t remember the exact moment we met, but it was a blessing—an immediate blessing, but one that was to be long term as well.

The three of us would meet up after classes for lunch and dinner and would all walk up together for breakfast. Which depending on the type of shape one was in could be relatively quick and painless or long, halting and laborious. The girl from Ohio was actually in the room next to mine. The three of us also signed up for the side trips the school had arranged. We spent an afternoon traveling to Taos and another visiting an Alpaca farm—which I loved as I’ve always thought I wanted to raise an alpaca or two.

The school provided social activities in the evenings. Some times it was a causal wine and beer “social” (for teachers!!, can you imagine?!), other times it was a cookout. There were naturally occurring hot springs located on the campus frequented by students, trainees, and some rather rough locals. One evening, about 6 of us from the Isolationist dorm (that’s what we came to call the gully dorm since we all sought to room alone), donned bathing suits along with towels and took off for an evening “soak”. To see a bunch of varying aged educators, in bathing suits (not always a pretty site) and wrapped up like Romans in togas, traipsing along the side of a road in the middle of nowhere New Mexico, in hot pursuit of hot springs in the middle of a hot July, was a sight to behold.

My friend teaching in England is actually German. She is married to a man from Finland. Their children were born in France while she was living there studying for her degree. One teacher asked her what language does she dream in and she replied with a smile, “it depends on the dream”. I came to love this woman.

She was an old hat at IB as she’d been teaching it for years. She is her school’s CAS director as well. That’s the teacher who oversees the required creativity and service component to IB. Her school works with an organization in Romania and Rwanda, which is working to end the myriad of orphanages in these countries by networking, and slowly, child by child, getting these kids adopted.

During the course of the week, the three of us leaned a great deal about one another. The three of us had all lost our moms when we were much younger. We had families that were at different places from one another’s and we shared the ups and downs of school.
And we also enjoyed “tea” time—or perhaps it’s the mere ritual and time-honored tradition teatime evokes. A moment of civility in a most non-civil of times.

I’ve been enjoying teatime since I was in high school. It’s just that I finally timed it correctly when I eventually got out in the real world working. Everyday I’d come home from school; I’d immediately put the kettle on. I prefer mint tea or green tea—caffeine likes to keep me up at night. I take mine with honey and milk. The small window I afforded myself to enjoy my cup of tea was precious, as it was about the only thing I ever did for myself…affording myself one small luxury in my hectic day. It provided me with some serious “detoxing” time from school and provided a nice transition to coming home, shifting gears, beginning supper, being mom and eventually wife. A sanity saver to be sure,

My German friend from England, it turned out, had a travel kettle. She took this thing with her everywhere. I knew at this moment, this woman was special!! She told us that when she and her husband were first married and had children, money was always tight. Many a trip the kettle provided a quick cheap meal of hotdogs. I never thought of a teakettle as a hotdog cooker—ingenious! Great for pasta as well she added. What a hoot!

This trip was to be no different. She pulled out that little travel kettle from her suitcase and instead of having happy hour each afternoon at 5, we’d all gather in her room around 4, or whenever we got out of our afternoon sessions, for tea. We smuggled tea packets out from the dinning hall, along with milk, honey and a few cookies. Watching a bunch of 30 to 60 year old woman sitting around a hot college dorm, with their smuggled contraband, enjoying a sophisticated afternoon of hot tea was a quite a sight.
It is in such moments that real conversations are had and real friendships are formed.

The school had enlisted the service of some of their boarding students as summer staff. These are IB kids from all over the world– Africa, Gaza, Israel, India, Iran, etc. One of the boys from Africa, who was our “hall monitor” (it’s funny, a 17 year old boy from Africa is hall monitor to a bunch of old women from all over the world), told the tea ladies his story.

He had come from a very poor family and was raised by a grandmother. He was a street-wise kid spending his time hustling on the streets for money— but he had shown great academic promise. He won an opportunity of coming to the United States to this particular IB school. He wanted to be able to go back to his home, creating a non-profit operation that would work with the street kids helping turn them around. My German friend from England thought that we should take up donations and give our “hall monitor” a small start for his dream. And so we did.

For a week that I was dreading, I departed a better person with some new-found friends. My plane was scheduled for an earlier flight than what the school’s shuttles were scheduled to run. I had to catch a ride with another teacher who had rented a car who also had an early flight back the Pittsburg.

Four of us relative strangers took off for the 2-hour ride back to Albuquerque. I had told my Isolationist cohorts good-bye that morning at breakfast. We were to take off for all different parts of the globe, but we were taking a bit of each other along on our various journeys. There were new ideas, new approaches to old problems and new contacts. I was sad saying good-bye.

I got to the airport only to find my flight delayed almost 2 hours. Are you kidding me!? I could have waited on the shuttle bus! I made my way over to a seat to proceed to wait when I suddenly spy a flight to Atlanta leaving within 10 minutes. I make my way up to the desk to inquire if there are any seats on this particular flight still available. I explain to the Delta rep that I’m a teacher and have been at training for the past week. Turns out this Delta rep was a former principal and wants to always help a teacher. She put me in first class. Oooo, really?

“But my luggage, my luggage, I’ve already checked it.” “Oh don’t worry, I’ll get it flagged and it will make the flight.” I was skeptical. I don’t have good luck with luggage. The year before, my aunt and I were coming back from Rome, both of our bags went on the carousel in Rome together– my aunt’s luggage arrived in Atlanta– my luggage went to New York. I wasn’t too certain now that my luggage would met me in Atlanta—but I was excited, first class—Ooooo!

The airport is now packed; they call my flight and ask all first class passengers to board. “Excuse me, please, I need to get through”—such a nice opportunity this is…. all the while my luggage looms in the back of my mind. I don’t “do” carry ons as I tend to over pack. But this is first class and I have a window seat, and a free drink—Ooooo!

I arrived home in Atlanta 2 hours early. I make my way over to the luggage carrousel. Round and round the luggage goes, where is Julie’s, no body knows. Are you kidding me??? I take the shuttle to get my car and finally head home, luggageless. The lady at the window where I was to pay for my car felt sorry for me when she asked about my trip and why I didn’t have any luggage—she gave me a discount. Delta promises they’ll deliver the bag to my house the next day…I’m getting use to that with Delta.

Fast forward to Christmas.

I sent my German friend in England some local honey, organic teas and other goodies as a Christmas gift so she may recall our New Mexico tea times. I too receive a package. It’s a travel teakettle! I too can now have either a civil cup of tea or a hotdog whenever and wherever I want one—Oooooo!

Fast forward to the Great Retirement Adventure—

When my German friend in England learned that I was going to be on her side of the “pond,” mid Fall, she made plans for a quick escape from her world in order to fly out to meet us for a weekend in Prague. That is true friendship. I don’t know when we’ll see one another again—there is hope for maybe this summer sometime. I hope so—either way, I still have a dear German friend, who is married to a Finn, teaching French in England, to kids at an American Boarding School who does charity work in Romania and Rwanda. And dares to dream Big! Such a big world just got a little bit smaller,

And the moral of this little rambling tale, besides being the fact that I am probably more like little Piglet, the fretful little pink one, rather than Eeyore the negative blue one, is that no matter my fears, worries, my self-deprecating ways, I am fortunate and blessed that my loving Father, has known me when…

“My frame was not hidden from Thee, when I was made in secret and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth. Thine eyse have seen my unformed substance; And in Thy book they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them. How precious also are Thy thoughts of me O God! How vast is the sum of them! Psalm 139

This Omnipotent Creator, this blessed Father, looks upon me, lowly little ol’ piglet me, and loved and loves me, even before I came into being me. It is so very hard grasping the depth of such Love. He always knows best, He will always know best, unto the end of my time and of the time of Existence— Maybe one day I will learn, trusting Him with not only the big issues of my life, but with the small fears, frets, troubles, worries and the occasional lost luggage. Praise be to God! Amen!!