Category Archives: making a difference
My sister-in-law, Mary Lou, emailed me the Starfish Story. It is definitely food for thought, so I’m happy to post it here –
A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.
She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”
The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”
The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.
— Adapted from The Star Thrower
by Loren C. Eiseley
In 1969 two wonderful things happened: my husband and I got married and I started teaching.
(My son provided a chat program so that we can “talk” any time we would like to, even though he’s across the world from us. This morning he had left me a question about my teaching many years ago. The chat program is having a hiccup, so I’m not able to answer him yet, but the question brought a flood of wonderful memories.)
My students were all black and I fell in love with them the first day. I taught first grade and we were in a self-contained classroom. This meant that I was responsible for trying to teach them everything. I was so excited about the opportunity it didn’t dawn on me that maybe I should be scared of all the responsibility, being a brand new teacher. We all learned a lot that first year.
I learned that our daily lives were much different from each others’, but we could sure love. I was trying to teach them phonics, and it was difficult to get or keep them excited about ‘sounds’ of letters. I made up a really silly song about the sounds, brought my guitar to school and taught my kids the song. They loved it! I would play and they would dance and we would sing, absorbing the sounds the letters made, and gradually putting them together to make words. Words became phrases and phrases became sentences and reading began. I checked out books from the school library and brought some from home to read to them so that I could share my love of reading.
I was supposed to have three reading groups, but I had six. I found that my kids learned in different ways and that, in order to make things stick and come alive, I needed to use different approaches for each group. I had the fast learners work with the kids who were having trouble, and that helped, too. I encouraged my kids to do well by giving them paper certificates on Friday afternoons for good work – one child would get one for sitting still for his reading lesson. Another got one for a good score in spelling, and son on. I gave out the certificates under the one tree on the playground, weather permitting.
My kids had trouble relating to the stories in the Weekly Reader, but we were required to go through it every week. My kids’ favorite use of it came when I rolled them up, climbed up on top of the waist-high heat register beside the windows and used it to swat a wasp that was threatening us and ruining our concentration.
I loved teaching. When the light of understanding came on – I called it the ‘light bulb moment’ – my day was made. I had made something understandable to a child. Their eyes would light up, a smile lit their face, and they could then take the ball and run with it. There is absolutely nothing more thrilling in teaching than when a child gets excited about learning.
Unfortunately, the public school system and I didn’t see eye to eye. I got into trouble – getting called to the principal’s office like an unruly child – called on the carpet for
- playing the guitar (“Ms. Lewis, this is NOT a music class!”)
- having too many reading groups
- not having all the kids on the same page at the same time
- letting kids tackling the learning in their own style
- giving out certificates under a tree on the playground
- attempting to contact parents when a child was having problems
- standing up in a PTA meeting and asking for help on getting the supplies we needed (we weren’t supposed to admit we didn’t have supplies)
- and the biggie – using the Weekly Reader to swat a wasp (the superintendent happened to walk in while I was on the register. The kids all cheered when I swatted the wasp and killed it. I put the nail in my coffin when I said, “This is the best use of the Weekly Reader I’ve seen yet.”
I had a wonderful eight years in the Tulsa Public Schools. During that time I earned a Master’s Degree as a Reading Specialist. I then started and ran my own reading clinic for another three years – my partner an intern teacher who taught with me.) We changed a lot of lives. We helped people – kindergarten through adult) fill in the gaps in their learning that had kept them from making sense of the printed page. We unlocked doors, brought smiles and confidence. The only thing we didn’t do was make enough money to continue. It was with great regret that I closed the clinic and went back to the regular world to get a job that helped pay the bills.
How lucky I was to have an opportunity I’ll never forget!
Our son wrote to tell us that an “American tourist” had stolen all of the donation money from the donation box in a temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand recently. They had a picture of the man inside the temple, but hadn’t apprehended him. Our son has always tried to overcome the bad image of American tourists in whatever country he is in. He tries to learn their language and speak to them. He tries to be kind and thoughtful of the culture and the people. He is angry and embarrassed that the behavior of Americans abroad has been so rude, thoughtless, downright crude, and even – to THIS news – criminal.
This feeling of being upset at the behavior of others reflecting on him goes back to when he was a young toddler. We would take him to a restaurant and someone would come over to our table and say something like, “We are SO impressed by the behavior of your son! He’s been a real little gentleman.” We would thank them and they would leave. Our son’s face would turn red as he said, “Other kids are giving me a bad name. They make it so that all people expect ME to act bad.” We told him that we understood his feelings, but that the only thing he could control was how HE acted. It didn’t seem to help much.
He told us he made a donation to the temple that was robbed.
I’ve always loved the 4th of July. My favorite thing, other than watching the professional shows, is sparklers and snakes.
It was my dad’s favorite holiday. He used to get a whole group of ladyfinger firecrackers that were all tied together in a big double swath, kind of like the ammo belts and shoulder harnesses bandoliers used to wear, and light the end of it so all of the firecrackers went off serially, seemingly forever. He would laugh with joy every time he did this.
Toward the end of his life, his health was very poor. He had a bad combination of dangerously enlarged heart, emphysema, and had bad cataracts – so bad he really had trouble seeing anything. His health was so poor that the surgeons didn’t want to risk removing the cataracts.
My husband-to-be spent all one July 4th evening setting off firecrackers that my dad could SEE and HEAR. I spent the whole evening in happy tears, seeing the joy on my dad’s face, love pouring out for my fiance’. If I didn’t love him for 9 million other reasons, I would love him for the gift he gave my dad that year.
May you enjoy sparklers, snakes, and beautiful fireworks this July 4th.
Happy Independence Day!
Emily Wright Cumming
Emily was from my husband’s family. We’re not great on relationships, but we’ve decided that Emily was a cousin of my husband’s mother. She lived to be 90, happily married for 68 years. A life well lived.
I didn’t know her well. We went to visit the family at Tate, a private community toward the top of a mountain in Jasper, Georgia. There was a beautiful lake, and members of the family were allowed to purchase land and build homes around it. Emily’s family had a beautiful home, and her sister, Miriam, and her family had a home on further down the road that went around the lake. I don’t know how many relatives lived there. We visited twice – once when I was pregnant with our son and again when our son was about 8. Otherwise, our contact consisted of Christmas cards once a year.
The reason I’m writing this is that Emily changed my life.
I have rarely seen anyone so full of life. She simply glowed. When I met her, she didn’t smile and say she was glad to meet me. She gave me a huge hug that brought tears to my eyes, making me feel I had made her day by coming. I learned quickly that this was the effect she had on everyone, and it was sincere .
There was a large dock by the lake that had a roof. This was the meeting spot for picnics, swimming, canoeing, painting, reading – however you wanted to enjoy the day. At night the family would gather, instruments in hand, playing and singing together long into the night. I will never forget the happy faces of each member of the family as they would suddenly think of another song, start it, and the others would join in.
Emily was the center, it seemed to me, of whatever was going on. I’ve never seen such exuberance, such enthusiasm, such honest delight. Her pride in her family knew no bounds. She would introduce me to one of her children, telling me what their passion was in life. It was beautiful to watch and hear. Her reaction, when someone would suggest an activity was, “Oh, YES! That would be fun!”
My gut reaction to breaks in routine, suggestions, surprises is, “No.” I have no clue why that is, and I really don’t like it about myself. My husband learned early that if he wanted me to do something, he should ask, listen to my “no,” and then let it go. I would usually keep thinking about the suggestions, usually coming around to ‘yes’ after I had a chance for the idea to settle. I met Emily, and I decided that I would really work to change myself. I wanted to be more like this wonderful lady who brought smiles everywhere she went, getting people off their duffs, moving them along with the happy force of her enthusiasm. It’s the power of ‘YES!” AND living life to the fullest, missing as few opportunities as possible.
I was sad to learn that Emily left us last week. In MY mind, though, she will always live at Tate, happily fishing off the bridge that went over the lake at one spot, working in the vegetable garden that was right outside her door, cooking mounds of food to feed anyone who came, making people laugh and enjoy themselves.
I hope she knows what a difference she made. I never told her that she became a role model for me. With a hug and sweeping me into the family, she changed my life, making me want to be a better person. What a treasure was Emily!
I know first hand what a difference this makes. Greenwood Veterinary Clinic sent us a card where everyone had signed it. I still have it.
I love this one.
This barber gives haircuts and shaves to the homeless – price? A single hug.
Thanks to Bill Lites for his email.
People going out of their way to do something for others brings tears to my eyes. Each kindness is different. Sometimes it’s giving of your talents at no charge. Sometimes it’s spending your time and money to say ‘thank you’ to others. These people are making a difference – making their part of the world better. This kind of generosity should motivate US to think about what WE can do in OUR part of the world.