Saturday, June 10, 2017

Hallelujah Anyway

Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott 
A reflection by Laurie Fowler
I have read many of Anne Lamott’s previous books: Traveling Mercies, Plan B, Help, Thanks, Wow!, so when I saw a new book in an airport bookstore, I bought it.  A real book, that although it is small adds weight to my carry on.  Knowing how accessible Anne’s texts usually are, I opened it up before we even took off and was immediately engrossed.  Her prose style is simple, elegant, and yet, powerful.  I began to read and then realized I needed to open my laptop to record the lines from the book that I wanted to remember.


In the opening chapter, she references Micah 6:8
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly[a] with your God.
This is one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible.  I was interested to see what her take on it would be.  On page 5, she says What Micah is talking about is grad school curriculum, while, spiritually speaking, I remain in junior high school, superior and cringing at the same time. WOW! She is so right; those simple words are lots harder to do than to memorize. I, too, feel like a young, gawky, not quite adult Christian when I look at my life and measure it by those three requirements.  I love that she compares being a better person and Christian to being in Grad School.  I totally relate to that.

After the exploration of this verse, she finally gets to the idea of mercy.  She says our hearts, minds, and spirits leap for joy when we just hear the word because the soul rejoices in what it already knows. (page 7)  I think this is true because on my journey so far in life I have met people and instantly felt like I have known them forever.  My soul recognizes other similar souls and rejoices. Yet why is it we are more willing to extend mercy and forgiveness to others, but not ourselves.  She state the obvious for those who are thick-headed—mercy is radical kindness. (page 10). God didn’t create us to be perfect, but because he thought we would like it. Wait, what?  God is that intimate with us to do things for us simply for pure enjoyment. (page 11). But, she later observes, God thought we would like puberty, warfare, and snakes? I could go on and on—senescence, global warming, Parkinson’s, spiders? (page 11).  I am guessing God did not place these things in our world to annoy us, but he knew that he would be there to help us through the tough times.  Because our God is so merciful to us, we, therefore, must learn to be merciful to others and ourselves.

Lately I have seen many memes on Facebook about being kind rather than being right.  Anne speaks to this, too.  Kindness toward others and radical kindness to ourselves . . . Do you want this or do you want to be right? Well, can I get back to you on that? I am amazed at how well she takes my thoughts and puts them right out there on paper.  I feel this so many times—in my personal life, I think it is my job to save my friends and family from being wrong; in my travel life, I think it is my job to teach others fairness by jumping on people who break in line during boarding the plane; in my inward life, I think it is my job to take on responsibility for the problems of others. What if by being kind to others and radically kind to myself, I am freed from these impediments to my own well-being? Because, according to Micah, we only have to love mercy to begin again.

In the next chapter, Ms. Lamott focuses on her childhood and the issues that arose for her because of her parents and her upbringing. While I can read this and empathize, I cannot truly sympathize because I was raised by loving parents who did their best even when they weren’t sure what they were doing was right.  I think I parted ways with mercy much later than childhood—possibly not until adulthood. Her reflection on growing older resonated with me.  Many of us try to live some variation of the Serenity Prayer, . . . but our minds and bodies do not always cooperate.(page 18) She also realizes that it is much harder to receive intimate care than to give it, but in being merciful to ourselves, we learn to accept with grace.
In chapter 3, she talks about the Chinese approach to broken things.  When something is broken in Chinese culture, it is repaired with gold leaf so that the broken places become more prominent.  They are visible, even prominent, because that makes the object even more valuable.  Americans would throw something broken away rather than even think about repairing it, and certainly not celebrate the flaws.  I think the Chinese are onto something.

The metaphor of giving water to someone who thirsts or receiving water from another is one used to help the reader understand mercy.  We must be ready to provide water to all who need it, even those who annoy us, or, GASP! those who we don’t think deserve it.  We also have to be willing and able to receive water when it is offered to us without worrying about what people will think of us.  That is something I really need to think about. I am fine with offering mercy to others, but not so good with receiving mercy. 

I absolutely adore this next line. The shortest and most amazing line in the Bible: Jesus wept. But in some translations it says Jesus is pissed. P. 92 It is not unthinkable then that Jesus who was fully human could also get pissed.  If he can do that, then I can probably learn to be more merciful, huh?

Another line that got my attention was, I’ve lived through times when a connected group of humans in grief and shock stayed together as things unscrolled, when a person was dying too young, or after.  I think about Tim Cooper, Michael the organist, Ed Pradat, my Dad, my Uncle Bill, and so many others who were not finished living, but they died anyway.  It left those of still here on earth with lots of questions and many insults that we hurled at God.  Mercy seems far away in times of grief until that friend or family member appears and does a simple kindness to remind you that people are good, God is good, and you are good.  I find another line exceptional in its clarity—maybe mercy and grace go together like cream and sugar.  Hmm, really? Those two things can make life less bitter as cream and sugar can do for coffee?  I will have to give that more thought.


I learned a lot about mercy by reading this book. I saw how Anne Lamott views it and I began to explore how I see mercy.  I think the most important thing I may have learned is to be more merciful means not to try harder but to learn to resist less.  That is some powerful advice.  As I look forward on my journey toward Christian Grad School as proclaimed by Micah, I am going to try to resist less and learn how to receive mercy.  Amen.

Friday, June 09, 2017

More Alike Than Different

I spent the last four days in a Muslim school in New York City.  I was a bit worried about dressing properly and not offending anyone. I called the project manager to inquire about proper attire.  I was relieved to discover that I didn’t have to wear a hajib, or observe the fast for Ramadan, or change my work wardrobe—just wear pants, closed-toe shoes, and longish sleeves.  My assignment for the week was to do technology and social studies; unfortunately, that was about the only information I was given. 

So, on the first day, I got there VERY early—by about 7:30.  I quickly found out that early was not good.  They had assembly at 8:20 for morning prayers.  Classes started about 8:30.  Oh, and by the way, they had a shortened school day because it was Ramadan. And, no lunch break because they fast from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan.

Not really having an agenda, but just a schedule of who to visit, I jumped right in to my day.  The students wore uniforms of green and white.  The boys wore white shirts and green pants and black dress shoes—no sneakers allowed.  Clad in snowy hijabs, the older girls wore long sleeve and long length green dresses with black shoes.  The younger girls also wore white hijabs, but they wore green jumpers and green leggings underneath.  I did see a few Kindergarteners with leggings with stars, Minnie Mouse, and polka dots. The little boys had black athletic shoes that they snuck in also.



I noticed immediately that my presence was curious to students, young and old alike.  I had much lighter skin than many of them and I was not wearing traditional Muslim garb.  They knew I was a stranger, but did not know why I was there.  The respect and deference they gave me was remarkable.

As I visited the secondary classrooms, I was reminded that we are all more alike than different.  Middle school boys at the end of the school year hoop and holler and horse around.  Middle school girls are excited for the end of school, but not quite as boisterous as the boys.  The high school students are struggling with the battle of preparing for important exams versus daydreaming about the summer vacation ahead. The kids are there to learn and to be with their friends.  They respect their teachers, they get into trouble, they create amazing projects, they are kids.

One thing that I noticed that was different were the signs and posters throughout the school in Arabic.  All students from Pre-K to 12th grade take Arabic, art, music, Islam, English, Social Studies, Science, Math, and Health.  Amazed to see all the subjects that the students take during a school day, I was equally amazed to see that they did this in 42 minute periods. I think one reason they are able to do this is the teachers move from class to class instead of the kids so very little time is lost from one period to the next. 



 
The classrooms were just like many other classrooms I have been in across the country.  There were many similarities to “regular” classrooms like grammar posters on the wall, bookcases with texts, SMARTboards, and chalkboards.  However, there were some differences I noticed. They had miniscule floor space with barely enough room for the teacher to walk around.  Often the classes had 20 or more students in them so it was quite crowded, but neither the students nor the teachers let that stop the learning.  Some classes had to be entered through other classrooms so interruptions were common, but did not seem to distract the students.

The teachers had no offices or teachers’ room. Preparing lessons, reading the Quran, or chatting with colleagues were what the teachers did in their space in the halls. They were all kind and often asked if I needed anything.  I shyly asked one teacher if I could drink my Diet Coke because during Ramadan most teachers and students do not even drink liquid from sunrise to sunset.  They assured me it was perfectly alright to do what I usually did.  I actually felt less pressure to behave a certain way when I was at this Muslim school than when I encounter fundamentalist Christians in my daily life in Alabama.

I noticed many sayings from the Quran posted throughout the building; I realized with some wonder that many of the sayings (that were in English) were similar in meaning to verses from the Old and New Testaments.  The students took great pride in being able to speak and write Arabic.  They valued their culture, religion, and traditions in a time in America when Muslims are being stereotyped as terrorists and killers.  They had a true sense of who they were and why their way of life was a good one to follow. I wonder if some kids I know who are Christian would be able to articulate their faith and commitment as the students at Al Ihasan Academy were able to do.



Throughout the week, I noticed more and more that I had been wrong about my assumptions about this school.  Except for the juniors, all of the students in the building were born after 9-11 rocked our world and especially New York City.  I wondered if they carried a burden of that part of history because the men who killed so many professed to be the same religion as they were. But, they do not feel out of sorts in Queens, New York. They are Americans.  They have parents, teachers, and a community that cares for them and their well-being.  They are Americans. They were born in America to families who had been settled in NYC before 9-11. They are Americans.  They study American symbols, heroes, leaders, and history in social studies. They are Americans. They listen to popular music, watch TV and YouTube, and read many things besides the Quran. They are Americans. I was humbled when I realized that I now knew without a doubt, we are all more alike than different.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

I'm Baaaaaaaaaaaaaack


Inspired by my friend from St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Robbie Clark, I am going to start blogging again. Since my dad died in 2014, I have had major writer’s block due to my own emotional stress.  After I read In My Words by Robbie Clark, a vivid recount of growing up and living with autism, I knew that my time to write had come again.  I really like making lists so I will start simply and go from there. Thank you, Robbie Clark, for being such an inspiration to me and so many others.


After seeing this list of what was the top selling book the year you were born from 1930 until 2016, I found that I have read 13 of the books.  Here is my TO READ list from the rest of the list.  I only chose books I was interested in so the years are not all that important. If you have read any of these books, give me a one/two sentence summary of why you liked it and why I should read it soon.

1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith 1943
2. You Only Live Twice by Ian Fleming 1964
3. Jaws by Peter Benchley 1974
4. Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow 1975
5. Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie 1976
6. E T The Extra Terrestrial by William Kotzwinkle
7. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos 1990
8. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien 1991
9. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt 1994
10. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby 1995
11. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold 2002
12. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom 2004
13. The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd 2005
14. Marley and Me by John Grogan 2006

15. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow 2016

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Remembering Dad

These are the memories that Lindy, Lee, and I wrote about our dad, Ed Fowler, who died on March 9, 2014.  These memories were read as part of his funeral service.


The following was written by Ed’s daughter, Laurie.
My initials are E.L.F. and although my given name is Elizabeth Laurie Fowler, I was named in part so my initials would honor my dad.  I used to hate being called by my middle name and vowed that I was changing it when I was older, but today I am very glad that my initials are the same as my dad’s.
My dad was the smartest man I knew. When I was in elementary school, he was my “daddy dictionary” because if he was around he could define and spell any word I was having trouble with.  He was an excellent, if sometimes harsh, editor and proofreader for many a paper that I wrote.
 I remember my dad read all the time—he read newspapers, biographies, nonfiction, mysteries, spy novels, and literature. Lindy, Lee, and I were probably the only kids that preferred going to a book store, rather than a toy store. Our odds of getting to buy a book when we were with Dad were pretty good. 
After divorce, my Dad remained a presence during my teenage years.  He taught me to drive and to care for the mechanical quirks of my 1968 Volkswagen Beetle. He wiped away my tears when I made my first Cs and assured me that I would still go to college.  And Dad told me that my life was not over when a boy that I liked didn’t like me.  Dad never belittled my teenage problems, but he offered practical advice and a shoulder to cry on.
Cooking and eating were passions of my dad.  He could make the best Fettuccine Alfredo and the best from-scratch clam chowder.  Because he was an adventurous eater, he taught me to be one, too.  Growing up, I ate lobster, shrimp, artichokes, Eggs Benedict, caviar, and other exotic things;  however, I never did pick up his love for raw oysters or fried baloney sandwiches.
I remember the wonderful trips and experiences that I had with my Dad. For many years, he took us to the beach for the Alabama Press Association Annual Meeting.  Playing on the beach with my family are some of my favorite vacation memories. He took me to concerts including Willie Nelson and Lionel Richie; and he took me to symphonies, and to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Dad loved to go to sporting events and it sure helped that he had a press pass. I remember seeing a golf tournament with him and meeting Jerry Pate.  He also loved to watch Atlanta Braves baseball and Alabama football and basketball and lots of times I had the joy of being there with him.
Reading and writing were his passions, and he handed them down to me. For this, I am forever grateful. Dad also taught me that life is not fair which was a hard, but necessary lesson.  He always let me and Lindy and Lee know how special we each were and that it was perfectly fine to be different from each other. Dad was there for me with a hug, or a phone call, or a blue pencil edited letter when I needed one.  My dad rarely let a visit go by without telling me how proud he was of me. 
For my college graduation, Dad wrote a column in the Montgomery Advertiser where he offered these wishes:
First, for a rewarding career that offers challenge and satisfaction rather than simple opportunity to make money.
And, second for the love of another person to share the life that lies ahead.

Dad introduced me to Robert Frost’s poetry, probably in 3rd or 4th grade, when he used a quote from The Road Less Traveled to explain why I was different from other kids in my class. I am sure I had been made fun of for being smart and was feeling pretty down about it. My Dad (and Mom) did their best to make me feel secure in being smart and being a girl, but also they provided much needed grounding to keep me bearable to live with! 

There was a reason to choose the path less traveled--the difference it made in the long run. Making good choices, if less popular, was a life skill that my Dad taught me.  So I leave you with this quote from Robert Frost:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
 I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.


These are the memories of Ed’s daughter Lindy.
I was most definitely a “Daddy’s girl.”  Some of my earliest memories of my father involve music.  I remember dancing around the room with him holding me tight.  He was a great dancer – he could slow-dance and do the bop.  My favorite dance with him was on my wedding day when we danced at my reception.  I’ll never forget the look of pride in his eyes as he sang the words of the song we were dancing to – “You’re the end of the rainbow, my pot of gold, Daddy’s little girl, to have and to hold.”
 Daddy also loved singing.  Although he never sang in public, our house and car was constantly filled with music.  We sang along to the radio – our entire family, eventually being able to harmonize and sound pretty darn good!  It was years before I realized that not everyone sang every note of a song – including the instrumental bridge.  He and my mom introduced me to classic artists such as Carol King, Willie Nelson, and Simon & Garfunkel.  Daddy and I also performed an amazing version of the duet “Islands in the Stream,” with me singing as Dolly Parton and him as Kenny Rogers. 
When my parents got divorced, he came to pick me up for school every day and he would bring me home from ballet class at night.  He was a gifted writer and he passed on his love of the written word to all of us kids.  He wrote special articles dedicated just to me for my 16th birthday and when I graduated from college.
I lived with him – just the two of us- the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in college.  I can remember calling him from the apartment as he was about to head home from work and asking, “Do you think the HOT NOW sign is on?”  It usually was and he would come home with a dozen Krispy Kremes for us to share. 
My daddy was unbelievably proud of me as his daughter, a sister, a teacher, a wife, and a mother.  He was a very loving and dedicated Poppa to my four kids, Hallie Grace, Luke, Eli, and Ella Kate.  Some of my most treasured memories are handing him my sweet newborn babies in the hospital, so that they could meet their Poppa for the first time.  He loved his grandchildren fiercely, and was always bragging about them to anyone who would listen.  Although we didn’t see him as much as we would like, the times we did spend together, were filled with love and laughter.  And now, my children can carry those precious memories of their Poppa with them always.
My daddy was an amazing man and I loved him with all my heart. There is an empty space in my heart now that he’s gone—a girl never really grows out of being her “Daddy’s girl.”  I will miss him every day and I am so blessed to have called him my Daddy. I am so thankful to know that I will see him in heaven one day and that we will be able to dance together once again.



And these are the memories of Lee, Ed’s son.
I have so many thoughts and memories of my dad that it feels impossible to pick just a few.
The main thing my father was to me was supportive. Throughout my life I have been able to go to him for advice, listen, and then make my own decisions.  His advice has generally been true, and even if I didn’t follow it, he supported me and made sure I knew that he was on my side no matter what.  I know it must be difficult for a parent to let their kids make mistakes, and deal with the consequences of those mistakes, but dad did that for me countless times, and never judged me for it.
Even when growing up, he supported me in following my passions. Most fathers dream of their sons becoming athletes – stars of football, baseball, basketball. Athletic prowess has never been my strong suit, but I have always been passionate about artistic pursuits: music, theatre, and writing. He came to see me in the marching band several times a year in high school and college, saw every play I performed in, and read my short stories as quickly as I could give them to him. He always supported me and let me know how proud he was of me, not because I was the best, but because I loved doing it. And because I loved it, he loved it too.
His love of music is something that all of his children carry to this day. As a kid, I hated being forced to listen to his favorite: Willie Nelson. 
Then, sometime in my early 20’s I heard “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain” playing at a record store and was singing along before I even noticed.  As time passed I realized that my dad had pretty great taste in music. He fostered me to develop my own tastes as well. I don’t think any of my friends have parents who not only listened to, but enjoyed Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and the rest of the music that was so important to me as I grew up.
Finally, he was a very giving man. Even in times when he didn’t have much to give by way of money or gifts, he always made sure to give me as much time as he could. My earliest childhood memories of my dad are fishing with him at the lakes at NorthRiver Yacht Club in Tuscaloosa, on a quiet Sunday morning, just me and him. We never caught much, mainly because I wanted to talk about everything going on in my world, and scared away the fish. Good thing, then, that catching fish was not the point of these days together. The time spent was.
I can think of no better tribute to my dad than the final words of the song that will always represent what he has meant to my life.
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine
If you need a friend I'm sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water I will ease your mind

Monday, September 16, 2013

It's Monday. What are you reading?


Monday, September 16, 2013
 

I am listening to the new Diane Mott Davidson culinary mystery, The Whole Enchilada, in the car as I travel to and from work. (Of course, now that I live in Huntsville, my drive is very short; I may never get to the end of this mystery!)  I love these mysteries and have been reading them for over 20 years after my dear friend, Luanne, introduced them to me during my first year of teaching.

I am reading Stardust Summer by Lauren Clark on my Nook app on the iPad.  I just finished another book by her called Dancing Naked in Dixie that was hilarious and had lots of Auburn football references which I thought were funny.

I just finished another book that I highly recommend—The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life by her brother Rod Dreher. It is about the blessings of living in and being a part of a small town.  Even when the tragedy of cancer strikes Ruthie, her spirit and love for her family, friends, and community shines through.  This is a great book about sibling rivalry, growing up, chasing dreams, and learning about love and community.  Warning—it is a tear-jerker!
What great new books are you reading this week?  Have a happy reading week!

Monday, June 03, 2013

Good Morning, Vietnam

In my new job, I have been learning American History in order to do teacher professional development on the eText.  I have been slogging away through history of the United States from 1877 to present.  This morning I got to the chapter on Vietnam.  Several things occurred to me as I studied this chapter.

I only know about Vietnam from television and movies.  I was born in 1968 so much of the conflict occurred when I was ages 0-5 so I was not the most attentive news watcher.  As I read the history, I recalled the movies I have seen set in the Vietnam Era--Good Morning Vietnam, Forrest Gump, and Apocalypse Now (watched that one for a class).  Then, there are the ones I have not watched--Platoon, Born on the 4th of July, We Were Soldiers, The Killing Fields, The Deer Hunter, and Full Metal Jacket. Being media savvy now, I can see how these movies all had their individual bias about what they were trying to communicate about Vietnam.

Next, I wept as I read about the Army nurses who were treating the young soldiers and who were just trying to get them home safe.  And I wept again as I read about the Vietnam War Memorial in D.C.  I have seen it and seen my uncle Bill's name and Gus's cousin Eddie's name on that vast slab of black marble. It is haunting to me to see all those men's names literally spelled out in a tribute. I am sure there are families who did not suffer a loss in Vietnam, but the ripples thato out from the over 58.000 men lost continue.  I am crying now as I write this.

Finally, I realize as a 40-something person in 2013 that the 11 year-olds and even the high schoolers who will study the Vietnam War see it as something from long, long ago. They will probably think of it as I used to think of World War II--something my grandparents dealt with.  But then, I do the math and for many of these current students even their grandparents won't have much memory of Vietnam.

My hope is that history teachers in the future will treat Vietnam as the war it was and show both sides of the war--the hawks and the doves--the brave soldiers who fought--the nurses and doctors who patched them up--the South Vietnamese people who tried to help the Americans--the protesters at home. I hope also they show this video clip of POWs returning home. And take the time to find pictures like these to share.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Who wears short shorts?


Slice of Life, March 21, 2013

Well, according to the 1980s tv commercial, it was girls who used Nair.  Now, I would say just about anyone can wear short shorts because they are so prevalent in the stores. I saw this pair of shorts at Target recently (Size 18 in case you care).  They are indeed short; in fact, they break both of my very important fashion axioms for big girls like myself. 

The first tenet is--"Just because they make it in your size, does NOT mean you should wear it."    The second is related--"If what you are wearing is WIDER than it is LONG, it is not for you." So, I would say BOTH of these very important fashion rules apply.  Just sayin'!