A Friday the 13th reflection


    I am a triskaidekaphile, not a triskaidekaphobe.  




    I don’t walk under ladders, but I have had one completely black cat (his name was Pele after the brilliant Brazilian soccer player) and have one now with just the smallest splash of white on this throat (which is why his name is Cielito, for little star on the background of black night).

    When I had a choice, my number in athletics was always 13.  Yes, I know that is what Ralph Branca wore when he gave up the home run to Bobby Thompson in 1951  (“The Giants win the pennant!  The Giants win the pennant!), but it is also what Wilt Chamberlain wore on March 2, 1962, in Hershey Penna, where he scored 100 points against the New York Knicks.

    13 is a prime number.  That always appealed to me.

    As a Jewish lad I became Bar Mitzvah on my 13th birthday, on May 23, 1959, which happened to fall on a Saturday.

    And because I like, or love – and do not fear – 13 even when it is the date of a Friday, I chose to offer a reflection.  Perhaps it is silly, Perhaps it is pointless.  But it is Friday, the date is 13, and that pleases me.

    I have four days until I officially report back to school.  I have had to work two different summer school jobs, the latest ending yesterday at Noon.  Because of financial strains our schools have been closed Fridays this summer.  Monday would be our normal day to report back, but it is the first of four furlough days.  And on the 23rd my school year really begins, when I receive my next group of students.

    Because I teach government, and because I want to connect it to the lives of my students, I perhaps pay too much attention to the political world around us.  Then again, I do live inside the Beltway (our school is just outside, on the other side).  For many of us here national politics is our local news.  We regularly encounter figures of national political importance in supermarkets and department stores, two tables over at a restaurant, stuck along side us in traffic jams . . .   even if we do not spend too much time in places that are full of them:  fundraisers, political meetings, political clubs  (I plead guilty to all three).  This year in Maryland, where I teach, we have our state elections and elections for our County offices.  For my students that may consume far more attention than Congressional elections.  After all, we are in Steny Hoyer’s district and his seat is not in jeopardy, although perhaps I can draw some interest if my students can believe his position might be –  Charlie Cook thinks the Republicans will win 30-50 seats (and I know some freshmen who are in serious jeopardy).  

    My concern, however, is less politics in isolation than its realization in government, in policy.

    As a professional educator, I am not happy about the current administration’s education policy.  Even as I express my concerns about the direction of that policy, I applaud the administration for twice going to the mat to save the jobs of teachers – and of police, firemen, and sanitation workers as well.  NO meaningful reform will be possible with class sizes ballooning or schools shutting a day a week as they did 17 times in Hawai’i last year.  In every situation one can find bright spots.  Thus imagine my surprise in reading about new teachers in DC and their training to discover that DC now has a Reggio Emilia inspired school.  I commend DC public schools for having such an approach, and might in my conversations with members of our school board recommend they explore bringing such a school into our district.

    I have stayed out of the brouhaha over the remarks of Robert Gibbs.  He was silly to say what he did.  We can always respond with the President’s own words:  during the campaign he constantly told us that real change comes from the bottom up, and as our President he has repeatedly reminded us to hold him accountable.  

    I am part of the amateur left.  I do what I do out of love, not because I am paid to.  I have never received even expenses for any political activity I have done.  That includes running field in two states for a presidential primary effort (which might be a clear indication of why that candidate did not get out of New Hampshire).  It includes blogging I have done on behalf of candidates from the highest office in the land to city council and school board positions.  It is why I write about policy, economic issues and the like . . .  It most certainly is why I can be more than a bit of a scold on matters I consider moral issues.

    The amateur left.  All those amateurs who fueled our Congressional victories in 2006, such as my own involvement in the campaign of Jim Webb.  Amateurs without whose involvement – and contributions – Obama does not win Iowa and thus is neither nominated nor elected.  We are the resources that are what the paid campaigners must leverage to be successful.   We are involved because we care deeply what happens to our nation, or our state, or our city.  Or all of them, and our world.  We know elections have impact upon our lives and jobs and the lives and jobs of people we know and love.  We are not selfish, because we also labor on behalf of those we have never met, because it is the right thing to do.  We respond to those in need.  Here we support quilts, we help buy shelter boxes, we organize blogathons on the Gulf, on Feeding America;  we have blogging series on disabilities and on environmental issues . . .

    Friday the 13th is a good time to remind ourselves that we are governed less by fear than by concern, responsibility, even love.  We are well aware of the threats to things that matter represented by some on the opposite political side (and a few too many who lack courage on ours).  That may get our attention, but for many of us it is insufficient to motivate our efforts.

    Perhaps our criticism of some Democrats (hello, Blue Dogs) and some in the administration (are you listening, Rahm?) is because they are responding to political fears rather than acting as boldly as we think they should.  We wonder what might be possible if only we are willing to try, to change our politics by appealing to the better angels of our nature rather than playing on fears or succumbing to the fears offered by others.  We think leadership should be willing to take the risks necessary to change the conversation, the dynamics.  Is not that what HOPE means, that a different frame, a different approach is possible?

    In the past few days I have read people who write that they are upset with the President but realistic enough about the fear of Republican control that they certainly will vote.  For me that is honest, but insufficient.  I need something more, I need hope, I need vision, I need a willingness to support the words from Shaw so often spoken until he was killed in Los Angeles by Robert Francis Kennedy:  

    Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say “Why not?”

    Why not have a health care system now that covers all Americans, so my trips to Wise VA, and the free clinics promoted by Keith Olbermann are no longer the sole means of care for so many, so that they become unncessary?

    Why not admit bluntly that our policies on gays – in the military, about marriage – are wrong and address them honestly, now?

    Why not insist that the riches any of us can achieve only happens because of framework of government that provides infrastructure, education, safety, response to natural disaster, and that therefore each of us has a responsibility under our social contract to give back, that taxes are not a burden but rather our share of supporting all of us so that we too can benefit?

    Why not recognize that if schools that are rich in arts and projects with smaller class sizes and teachers who are not overburdened is something worth having that we take that approach in our public schools, whether they are in rich suburbs, rural communities or inner cities?

    Abraham Lincoln, speaking of slavery, told us that a nation divided against itself could not stand.  Those words are applicable to all kinds of division:  on race, on religion, on sexual preference, on national origin, and – yes – even on politics.  Those who would seek to divide us?  We need to first remind ourselves, and then everyone else that in so dividing us they are moving towards destroying us.  

    To those who fear change, we need to help them overcome that fear as much as they will let us, and refuse to allow their fear to keep us from doing what it is right.

    To those who value position over responsibility we must assert that in our system of government that position is a trust we grant them contingent upon their serving We the People and if they fail to do so they can be replaced, perhaps even by one of us.

    Friday the 13th.  If one fears it because there were 13 at table at the Last Supper, and the following day, a Friday, Jesus was executed, might I remind them that in Christian theology it was only by dying and rising again that Jesus conquered death, and thereby conquered sin.  Even if you do not take that literally, think of the imagery, someone taking our burden to free us.  Remember that Jesus chastised those among his disciples who attempted to prevent his arrest and what would flow from it.  Remember also that insofar as he was human he needed help with his burdens – Simon the Cyrene carried the cross for him.

    Friday the 13th.  At least once, and perhaps twice, a year.  An occasion to stop and remember that even things seemingly scary can be opportunities for growth.

    Phobia –  a fear, often irrational.  Yet even if there is a rational basis for that fear to be governed by it is to restrict our own possibilities, as individuals and as a society.  

    Philia –  love.  To love a person is not to seek to possess or control them.  It is to want the best for them, to see them flourish.  Not only our kith and kin, but all of creation, for our love should not be limited to homo sapiens sapiens.  Had I any doubt there are five felines in the household that remind me of the range of love, and there is a wonderful world outside with flowers and trees, rivers and lakes, rocks and sand and earth, without which I am far poorer.

    A reflection?  To look in a glass or a still body of water and see how I really appear.   To understand that I may be quite different than my mental conception of myself.  I should not be so arrogant as to think I can operate in isolation.  Neither should I be so fearful to believe that I can do no good and must devote all my energy to protecting myself.

    It is Friday the 13th.  The words above are a mental meandering, from a mind limited by the experience of one person, yet potentially so much more because of its ability to see beyond the limits of that experience, if only it is willing to trust.

    A mind, but also a heart, or if you prefer a soul.  A connection with others.  Again a line from the bible is remembered-  whatsoever you do unto the least of these my brethren you also do unto me.  

    I choose not to be afraid.  It is a choice.  It is an action of a free being.  Free.  Because if I operate out of fear I cannot be open enough to love, or to accept the love offered by others.

    My choice is philia, not phobia.

    I choose love.



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