Thanks for an awesome three years, Panther Peeps!
“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”
-George S. Patton
From his speech at the Copley Plaza Hotel, Boston Massachusetts, June 7, 1945, reported by William Blair in The New York Times, June 8, 1945, p. 6.
Memorial Day hurts.
For military families, Memorial Day is personal. We honor the memory of fallen heroes on this day, including many who were much more than heroes to us–they were our friends and family.
This year, like every year, I obsessively read the thoughts, responses, and manifestos posted about the meaning of Memorial Day and the appropriateness (or inappropriateness) of the words we use to express that we’re thinking of each other on this day. I am going with my gut this year, and I will not be conflicted about what to say to someone who wishes my family a “Happy Memorial Day.” I will thank them for their warm thoughts, assume they are coming from a place of caring, and seize the opportunity to tell them about one of our fallen friends and how important it is to me that we have this day of remembrance for them.
My family and friends do devote time to somber moments of remembrance on Memorial Day, and I am glad to live in a country that dedicates a day to pay tribute to our war dead. I am also glad that in my family we spend most of Memorial Day laughing. We come home from somber and reflective ceremonies during which our eyes and hearts well up and we hold each others’ hands a little tighter, and then we spend the rest of the day telling old tales and building new memories. And we usually laugh our damn heads off, eyes and hearts still welling, sharing those tales and thinking about how fortunate we are to have had such friends as those we have lost. And how fortunate we are to still have each other.
Our National Moment of Remembrance is a time for Americans everywhere to pause for one minute at 3:00 p.m. (local time) on Memorial Day to remember and reflect on the sacrifices made by so many to provide freedom for all.
The photographs featured in this post were taken by the author at Fort Drum Memorial Park.
A decade ago, our military was facing a dizzying op-tempo, coupled with the kind of violent warfare that my family, and many other young Army families in the regular combat arms community, had not been exposed to quite so intimately before. I have felt comfort in reading stories from other military spouses processing their most galvanizing deployments from that time. Stories in which I saw echoes of my own experience. One of the great dichotomies of the military spouse community is that while spouses have so much in common with each other, we possess even more that serves to make us unique. For this reason, our individual stories are important. I respectfully add this small piece of my own story to the greater anthology. I use “we” frequently in this post–this is the “we” I felt part of at this exceptional time in my military spouse experience, and is not meant to be definitive.
This little piece of my story is my love letter to those sisters who helped me through the extension referred to here, those sisters who kept me from shattering during the deployment that immediately followed, and those sisters and brothers who inspire and support me through the deployments that continue to follow.
In early 2007, my Against All Odds sisters and I thought we were winding down a brutal deployment.
We were weary. We were exhausted from a steady barrage of gut wrenching news, memorial services, and incident briefings.
We were tender. We were bruised from constant worry, from caring for everyone except ourselves, and from shouldering a great emotional burden that was impossible to set down.
And, we were fiercely resilient. Which was a very good thing, because just as we thought we could begin to relax and think about homecoming, the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense announced the extension of our soldiers for an additional four months of deployment.
I had just seen my Vagabond Soldier in December. He’d been deployed eleven months by the time he was able to take leave, and we wondered whether it was even worth it at that point. We were so close to the deployment’s end, we wondered if it would be emotionally harder and more disruptive (for us and for our young son) if we were to take a knee for a break so close to the finish line. By that point in the deployment, we were also superstitious about every decision we made: were we asking to be that tragic couple in the movie where you just know the poor soldier who just came back from seeing his wife and kid is going to step on a land mine within seconds of being back in the combat zone? In the end we decided that the opportunity to see each other, like life itself, was a precious thing and not to be wasted. Our leave was quietly glorious. We watched Star Wars movies and Animal Planet, and played in the deep snow of Northern New York. And, best of all, I watched my husband sleep soundly, safe for the moment from IEDs, rocket attacks, and bad guys.
A little over a month after leave ended, as the brigade’s torch party and another battalion were just beginning to head home, and around the time our battalion families were receiving tentative dates for homecoming, I got a call–a vicious, sucker punch of a call. There was going to be an extension. We’d get more news soon. There would be a town hall meeting.
I’d been writing in a journal throughout the deployment. Originally with the intention of giving the journal to my husband when he came home to share daily stories of charming things our son did and my adventures in house renovation. I am a glass-half-full-kind of girl, whose prolific and honest journal entries about the wonder of everyday things are evidence that I was not just “surviving” but “thriving” through deployment. It was a mindset a number of us adopted–a little everyday Pollyanna mixed with a heavy dose of dark cynicism at the larger goings-on of the world. Mostly, I wrote about everyday things I wanted to share with my soldier: the first crocus peeking out of the snow; our son sledding like a maniac down the “big hill” with bright red cheeks; my success in installing a new floor in the upstairs bathroom. Looking at those entries a decade later, I find them conversational and chatty, and hovering somewhere between sucking-the-marrow-out-of-life passionate and pragmatically zen. My journal entry the day of the phone call was quite different:
I am so tired.
Not sad. Or angry. Or anything. Just empty. Clinging to what I remember of my brave and solid self until I find her again.
This isn’t some sad story about slowly fighting my way back to sanity. I found my brave and solid self quickly, with an almost blunt force, in the faces of my sisters during the emotional cacophony of our town hall meeting. I found bravery in our honesty, tears, anger and unapologetic disappointment. I found solid footing in our grit and gallows humor–and in the pragmatism of the questions we posed. We were not a stoic group, but we had more than enough practice at dealing efficiently with the unthinkable to let this sucker punch keep us down for long.
I regained my equilibrium though the sheer strength I saw in the people around me. I don’t believe things in life happen to us to provide us with lessons, but I do believe that we have a choice to learn from everything that happens to us. What I learned from laughing, crying, caring, and sucking it up and driving on with the badass sisters of the CHOSIN, Against All Odds, battalion was to live deliberately every second of this life that you are given, because life is just too damn short and too damn beautiful not to. It is as simple and as profound as that.
The picture featured in this post is of a shadow box that hangs in my kitchen. It holds a 1-32 Infantry ‘Against All Odds’ charm, a Fort Drum pin, a political cartoon from the time of the extension, and a photograph, c. April 2007, of a handful of the phenomenal people who helped me find moments of joy in the most worrisome of times.
Jan 25, 2007
Release Number: 0701-18
By: CJTF-76 Public Affairs
NEWS RELEASE: 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division will extend deployment in Afghanistan
BAGRAM AIR BASE, AFGHANISTAN – The U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense announced today the extension of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum, N.Y., for an additional four months through June 2007. Coupled with the scheduled deployment of 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82d Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C., this extension will increase the U.S. forces supporting the NATO led International Security Assistance Force by approximately 3,500 Soldiers.
“This increase in combat power will ensure a robust, flexible force capable of denying insurgent sanctuaries in Afghanistan, place greater emphasis on the border region and extend security operations to a wider area in Afghanistan,” Maj. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, 10th Mountain Division commander said.
The U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff visited Afghanistan January 17th promising to provide the resources U.S. commanders need to defeat the Taliban and ensure security and stability in Regional Command East in support of the ISAF mission.
“Secretary Gates and General Pace asked us, ‘What do commanders on the ground need to win?’, and we told them an additional maneuver battalion, addition forces on the border and a theater tactical reserve,” Freakley said.
The extension of 3rd BCT immediately satisfies that requirement with a U.S. commitment to seek a long term sourcing solution yet to be determined. The actual employment of this increased combat power will be determined by ISAF and RC East commands.
“I understand and respect that this news will be taken hard by some members of the Task Force Spartan family team, but they have been responsible for so much positive progress here in Afghanistan and I know the Spartans will take this in stride and together with 4th Brigade, 82nd Airborne, Task Force Fury, they will make a significant impact on the mission during this 4 month extension.”
The Department of the Army will send a Tiger Team to Fort Drum to identify ways to resource additional support to the families of 3rd Brigade Soldiers for the four month extension. General Freakley has also charged the Fort Drum staff to double their efforts to support the soldier’s families.
“This extension is necessary to demonstrate to the Taliban that pressure on them will be unrelenting and to show the Afghan people that the United States of America is fully committed to the security of their nation and the assurance of their freedom,” Freakley added.
The 3rd Brigade Combat Team has been deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom for 11 months. Their four month extension will allow them to support security operations along side the 4th Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division to promote stability and security in Afghanistan.
At our neighborhood book club, I mentioned I was looking forward to reading Between the World and Me and received an excited suggestion to listen to the audiobook, which the author reads himself, and to also read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. I took both suggestions, and am glad I did. I am reviewing these two works together because I read them so closely together.
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ prose is powerful, especially when heard in his own voice. I found Coates’ anger, his insights, and his frank advice to his son (to whom this work is addressed) relatable both as the parent of a fourteen year old and as a person who works with (and cares about, and worries about) the teenagers in my high school every day. Coates brings into sharp focus the hopelessness, fear, and anger he felt growing up, and the fear he feels as his son is thrust into a world that has proved itself to be a hostile and divided place.
The greatness in Between the World and Me is that it is intensely personal. Coates’ description of the constant struggle he faced during his formative years to protect his own body is gut wrenching. The personal stories Coates shares provoke deep consideration of our societal constructs regarding race, as well as close consideration of our assumptions about, and treatment of, other people as individuals.
Between the World and Me is illuminating. I appreciate the rawness of Coates’ narrative and his perspective, though I confess that on the first reading I did find his repeated assertion that the actions of American white people are the result of their intent to claim racial superiority exhausting. Upon reflection, though, perhaps that is Coates’ point–to demonstrate that his experience as a black man in America has been an exhausting practice in defensive living. I was emotionally drained after reading this book, but still heartily recommend it.
I read The Fire Next Time immediately after finishing Between the World and Me, and was struck by the similarity of the sentiments expressed in the two books, considering they are written decades apart. Baldwin’s writing is a pleasure to read, and his message resonates as powerfully today as it must have when it was first published in the early 1960s.
While Baldwin expresses similar themes in his work to Coates–disillusionment with an education system stacked against black Americans; anger at the lack of choices and outright racism that confront him in everyday life; and, rage that black Americans face immeasurable obstacles for no reason other than they are black–Baldwin’s work contains brilliant lights of revolutionary thinking that transcend integration. Baldwin calls on all Americans to accept our complicated, often ugly, past “without drowning in it”–and to each take responsibility for smashing the myth of the American Dream, as it previously existed, in order to create a nation together.
Baldwin offers more than his anger in The Fire Next Time. He is also generous enough to offer the hope that we humans all have the capacity to wake up to the reality of our current state, and to contribute to a better nation. Baldwin places the responsibility for our future in all our hands, giving both agency and responsibility to the disaffected, as well as the privileged:
In short, we, the black and the white, deeply need each other here if we are really to become a nation–if we are really, that is, to achieve our identity, our maturity as men and women. To create one nation has proved to be a hideously difficult task; there is certainly no need now to create two, one black and one white.”
I would recommend everyone read these books, one after the other if you can. If you have time for only one of them right now, start with Baldwin.
Further Reading & Exploration
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. New York: The Dial Press, 1963.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. New York : Spiegel & Grau, 2015.
Melissa Fay Greene’s Praying for Sheetrock is a well-researched, detail-oriented, unhurried read about a tumultuous time in the history of McIntosh County, Georgia. Greene explores difficult subjects with objectivity and understanding, and she tells a good story.
Greene’s approach to this narrative work of non-fiction is rich with personal details that reveal the good and the flaws in all of the characters who populate the story. Greene elegantly ties each of these personal stories into the larger historical epoch. The struggle for civil rights was slow to arrive to McIntosh County, a community Greene describes as living in a state of “civilized repression” and “good manners” until an event of shocking violence “violated the unspoken social contract that allowed the whites and the outcast blacks to live in peace” (p. 122-3). While some readers may find Greene’s style and language cumbersome and overly detailed, I found that the meticulous language she used not only enriched my understanding of the events in the work, but also evoked the overall pace of coastal Georgia, where I currently reside. I found that Greene’s deep dive into intimate detail helped me understand better what was at stake for the inhabitants of McIntosh County as they attempted to reconcile their personal experience (with their history, their community, and their law makers) with the awakening of the local black community to their civil rights and to their own power.
Though Greene’s story contributes to our national narrative of our ongoing American civil rights struggles, Praying for Sheetrock is ultimately a story of people. Noble and flawed people, who are sometimes horrible and sometimes heroic, and often both. In the hands of another author, this cast of unbelievable characters–including a Robin Hood style white sheriff, flawed black community organizer, and a group of eager Yankee lawyers–could have become a farce. Thankfully, Greene presents this real life cast with a thought provoking honesty that serves this story, and the reader, well.
Further Reading & Exploration
Greene’s Website includes more information about her published work, her media appearances, and her upcoming events.
Georgia Writers Hall of Fame interviews: Melissa Fay Greene
The Georgia Writers Hall of Fame, under the leadership of the University of Georgia Librarian, honors Georgia’s writers, literature, and cultural history. The Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame honoree page for Greene honors her for both her extensive research and her “personal approach” to the subjects of her work.
The New York Times Review of Praying for Sheet Rock
The 1991 New York Times “Book of The Times” review of Praying for Sheet Rock, written at the time the book was published, is a concise and well-written summary of Greene’s work.
Through the Lens of Photographer Walker Evans from Georgia Public Broadcasting
In Praying for Sheetrock, Greene refers to Walker Evans’ photographs of rural poverty to provide context to the poverty and living conditions of McIntosh County, Georgia in the 1970s. The above link leads to a Georgia Public Broadcasting page that includes a brief slideshow of highlights of Evans’ work; an audio interview with Alex Harris, who was a student of Evans; and, a video that combines Evans’ photography and his own reflections on his experiences as a photographer.
The Featured Image for this post is from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Online Collection, a collection of photographs, prints, and other still media that documents the lives of Americans and our collective history.
Title: A Greyhound bus trip from Louisville, Kentucky, to Memphis, Tennessee, and the terminals. Sign at bus station. Rome, Georgia
- Creator(s): Bubley, Esther, photographer
- Date Created/Published: 1943 Sept.
- Medium: 1 negative : nitrate ; 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 inches or smaller.
- Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-fsa-8d33365 (digital file from original neg.) LC-USW3-037939-E (b&w film nitrate neg.) LC-USZ62-75338 (b&w film copy neg. from file print)
- Rights Advisory: No known restrictions. For information, see U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs(http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/res/071_fsab.html)
- Call Number: LC-USW3- 037939-E [P&P]
- Other Number: E 5153
- Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print
Just a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of spending the better part of a school day engaging with students as they checked out To Kill a Mockingbird for their American Literature classes. Class after class of students commented as they checked out this classic work that they knew the book was going to be good when the pages were worn and the spine was taped up (see photo). It was a spot-on observation that made me smile. Some books checked out for class reading are returned to the media center looking untouched, and probably abandoned in favor of SparkNotes or Thug Notes. To Kill a Mockingbird is not one of those books. The copies of Mockingbird come back to the media center dog-eared and well-used. Mockingbird is the type of story that our students value most–a story that is relatable, and at the same time calls us out, makes us feel challenged, and inspires us to question our world view.
I was saddened this week to read The Associated Press article School District Temporarily Pulls Classics After Complaint and to learn that Accomack County Public School System was temporarily suspending use of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn after a parent submitted a complaint about the effect the language, particularly racial slurs, in these books could have on students. I appreciate reading about a parent coming forward to voice her concern at a school board meeting, which is an appropriate and effective forum for civic engagement. (Click here for audio of the Accomack County, Virginia November 15, 2016 School Board Meeting) I am horrified, though, that the school system’s review process apparently includes suspending the titles in question while they are under review. Surely, there could have been some less drastic measure taken, such as offering an alternative text for this individual student while going through the process of addressing the parent’s concern.
I am a champion of reading choice. As a high school media specialist, that means I provide access to a wide diversity of information and stories. While the Accomack story centers around two classic works presented in the classroom, I am concerned as a parent and a librarian that a piece of valued literature could be so quickly “suspended” from use by students school wide after a single parent complaint. I want my son, who is in high school, to have the benefit of exploring challenging literature with a professional educator who will help him navigate the inquiry process spurred by his reading. Removing texts that are uncomfortable is contrary to that.
Stories are important. Especially the ones that make us uncomfortable. Words are important. And, the stories that resonate with readers do not shy away from words authentic to their time, place, and situation. Stories like To Kill a Mockingbird touch students by personalizing history. These stories also provide a platform for students to explore challenging topics, such as prejudice (historically and today), our country’s ongoing civil rights struggle, “fitting in” to society, failures of the justice system, and personal morality. We simply can’t afford to remove access to stories that help give students the context to grapple with complex issues.
Diversity in Literature
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk The Danger of a Single Story is an inspiring look at the importance of exposure to a wide range of stories that reflect ourselves and those around us.
To Kill a Mockingbird
In my own high school media center, I can’t keep To Kill a Mockingbird on the shelf. Our students check Mockingbird out to read for their English, they choose it for independent novel assignments, and they read (or reread) the book for pleasure.
Roy Newquiest’s 1964 WQXR interview with Harper Lee in which Lee talks about her writing habits, her opinion of the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird, Southern people, and her book.
Jamie LaRue’s September 2016 School Library Journal article All Schools Need Book Challenge Policies
American Library Association
The freedom to read is essential to our democracy. You can learn more about this topic in relation to librarianship by exploring the following links:
I became a librarian because I am passionate about empowering people by connecting them with information they can use to positive effect in their lives and communities. With the election fast approaching, we all continue to seek out information that we can rely on as accurate–for ourselves, and to use with our children and students. I hope the information in this post will help you feel empowered when you go to the polls next month.
Our System: The Electoral College
Having trouble explaining the electoral college process? The National Archives and Records Administration U.S. Electoral College webpage can help! This collection of current election information, historical resources, and Frequently Asked Questions is a great place to begin when explaining our electoral process to students or foreign friends.
The Candidates: Their Positions and Policies
Get it straight from the candidates’ websites. Click the name of each candidate below to visit the page of their official website on which their policies and positions are articulated. The candidates have been listed here in alphabetical order.
Newsela is a website that many educators at my high school rely on for current event articles that can be adapted (scaled) to different Lexile reading comprehension levels. In addition to providing high-interest articles for readers of all levels, Newsela is currently featuring Students Vote 2016, in which Newsela presents a collection of articles, profiles, biographies, speeches, maps, and other resources for students to explore citizenship, voting, and the election.
PBS LearningMedia’s Election Central provides a treasure trove of multimedia resources to engage voters and future voters of all ages. You will find information about the election process, debates, electoral college, candidates, as well as films, lesson plans, and tool kits to engage students in actively learning about the electoral process.
In the following video from TED-Ed, Christina Greer explains the Electoral College, and how votes are counted on the state and national level. You can find the learning material associate with this video on TED-Ed here: Does your vote count? The Electoral College explained.
Retired middle school teacher Phil Nast has curated a rich collection of resources and lesson plans that are available via The National Education Association’s Elections webpage. The page includes lessons for student from Pre-K through 12th grade, and are curated from sites such as Scholastic, PBS, National Endowment for the Humanities, and other organizations with a history of providing reliable information in formats that provide a platform for students to engage their inquiry and critical thinking skills.
For Fun and Further Exploration: The Political Quiz
Having trouble defining your stance on some issues? Looking for a way to spark a conversation based on thoughtful consideration of the issues with your students? One of the following political quizzes may help get you started.
I like the Pew Research quiz for two big reasons: the questions are thought provoking, and there is a group version of the quiz that could be used to engage a class or other group interested in engaging in meaningful inquiry of political typology.
I like the iSideWith quiz because it provides granularity in the available response choices to each question, and allows the person taking the quiz to weight the importance of each issue to them as a voter.
The Vagabond Teen and I took Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari on the road this summer. We listened to the audio book on road trip days, read some chapters in our down time, and further dove into the subject of humankind, our biology, and our social history by watching videos about early humans and looking at what we’ve learned about our own deep ancestry through participation in National Geographic’s Genographic Project.
Sapiens offers up what the title indicates–a view of human society and the way our biology and beliefs have influenced our development as a species over the course of our existence thus far. Harari’s writing is clear, direct, and well-paced. Sapiens is an enjoyable book to read (and listen to), and it is full of facts, theories, and historical anecdotes that inspire great conversations.
Harari does veer into sensational territory a few times toward the end of the book, when he talks about more recent history and when he makes predictions for humankind’s future. These chapters may have been less interesting (and more eye-roll inducing) had I been reading the work on my own, instead of listening to the work and discussing it as it progressed.
Both the Vagabond Teen and I found the book informative, entertaining, and though-provoking. We enjoyed the way Harari presented complex concepts and theories through interesting facts and stories. We loved that Harari seemed to trust that we were smart enough to understand what he was presenting. He provided us just enough background information so that we didn’t get lost in his work, and he didn’t waste time with long-winded explanations full of insider jargon when plain language served his purpose. The Teen and I re-read and talked most about the theories surrounding early man’s relationship with other humans, and were interested in the conflicting theories that have sought to explain just “what happened” to these humans. Having our Genographic Project results to connect us to the Neanderthal and Denisovan populations enriched our experience of Sapiens–we seem to have higher percentages of each population in our DNA results than is currently theorized to be average, which lead us to quite a bit of speculation about what our long-long-ago ancestors must have really been like.
While Sapiens particularly appealed to us Vagabonds because we are fascinated with early humankind and the development of human society, I think any reader interested in the world around them will connect with this well-written and fascinating history.
Want to dig deeper?
Yuval Noah Harari: What explains the rise of humans? | TED Talk | TED.com
Visit the PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) website to find a treasure trove of documentaries and other shows. Searching NOVA episodes is a great place to start if you are interested in learning more.
Author’s note: I mention The Genographic Project a few times in this post. I am not associated with National Geographic in any way beyond being a NatGeo Fangirl, and I am only associated with The Genographic Project as a participant who loves being the contributor of a very tiny piece of research that could help us better understand the early human journey.