Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

Frustration


by Keith Yancy

At last, some time to write… and, in no particular order, I’m sharing a few of my recent frustrations.

  1. Plane trips.  I’ve been exactly six feet, one-inch tall for the past 26 years or so, but recently, and ONLY recently, I’ve discovered that I’m becoming uncomfortably tall on airplanes.  At least it feels that way when I sit down.  The leg room on the last few flights seems to be steadily getting smaller and smaller, with more and more people jammed into the same confined space.  I know there are people taller than me on these flights, and during the last one, my knees were literally up against the seat in front of me… and that person hadn’t reclined their seat.  Higher prices, no food, and now, apparently, no space to sit comfortably.  Thanks for putting customers first!
  2. Politicians.  From presidential candidates who could be the poster guys for the “Pick Your Poison” award… to Michigan state politicians scandalized by the word “vagina”… there seems to be so very, very few political figures I respect these days.  At the very, very bottom of the political “food chain” is, as always, our illustrious Detroit and Wayne County politicians, who make stupidity and chronic bumbling a true art form.  It’s so bad, the Mayor, the City Council, and the Detroit top attorney can’t even agree on who is actually in charge.  These political cronies and hangers-on would rather argue endlessly (and collect their paychecks) than do anything to try to keep Detroit from sliding into bankruptcy.  For many, including myself, I’ve given up any hope that this collection of fools can do anything useful, and would actually welcome an Emergency Manager.  Detroit deserves way, way better than these sorry excuses they call leaders.  And all of us — across the country — deserve better choices for who is running for office. 
  3. Bullying kids, and the parents who raise them.  Bullying is a funny thing — everyone’s against it, but it sure seems to be a popular problem.  Why?  For one thing, kids are kids, and some of that is going to happen.  But I know that if I learned that my kids were bullying others, my kids would get corrected IMMEDIATELY, and that requisite apologies would be forthcoming.  Bullying others is not tolerated in my house, within my family… and my kids know it well.  Yet, there are parents out there who somehow believe that it’s better to be dealin’ than receivin’, and thus if their kid’s a bully, then it’s somehow okay.  These parents are stupid.  The recent punishment for the four boys who bullied the bus monitor (a year’s suspension from school) is a fitting one, and it was encouraging that several (not all) of the parents involved not only made their kids write letters of apology, but apologized themselves.  Rightly so.  I would have been mortified to be one of those parents.  Parents should bear the consequences, and share in the punishment, for their kids’ poor behavior.
  4. Bad manners.  Is it that hard to say “please” and “thank you” to waiters and waitresses?  Is it too much to ask to chew with your mouth closed?  Don’t you think that — by the time you’re in your 40’s with kids, no less — that trying to cut in front of others in line makes you look like a jackass?  Perhaps I’m just naive, but it still surprises me when grown-up, old-enough-to-damn-well-know-better adults display such appallingly bad behavior.  Most of the time (especially with the chewing with the mouth open one) I just suffer in silence, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let some pushy person try to get in front of me in line, like the person who tried (and failed) to do so in St. Louis.  Later, this same person — in front of her kids, no less — made some presumptive statement about people hogging all the observation windows in the observation area.  Lady, thanks for reminding all of us how not to behave… but unlike yourself, I know that already, so spare me (and others) the example next time.
  5. Paper-thin hotel room walls.  Blech.  Recently, I had the pleasure (I thought) of staying in a high-end, posh hotel for a business conference.  The kind of place that spares no expense to make visitors comfortable.  Unfortunately, the only expense that WAS spared was the one to put some insulation between the rooms of the hotel.  I was the victim of (apparently) newlywed next door neighbors, whose vocal amorous episodes were both loud and amazingly frequent.  In fact, the walls were so thin, I could actually hear their jokes… and that with both a television and an iPod turned up.  4:40AM, 5:30AM, 1:00PM, 3:00PM, 7:30PM… no time of day or night was safe from this very, very verbal couple.  I found myself feeling somehow guilty for being subjected to hearing it.  Though I never met them, their stamina and enthusiasm earned my respect, if nothing else.  But I’d rather not have heard it at all, and shouldn’t have in a hotel as high-class as the one I stayed in.
  6. Unmet expectations.  Okay, yeah, this is a pretty broad category.  But I’m talking about not living up to your own expectations, specifically when it comes to controlling one’s own worry and anxiety about life’s challenges.  Having read my Bible enough to appreciate the true “heavy hitters” of faith, i.e., Moses, David, the 12 apostles, Paul, etc., I wish I could have 1/100th of the faith those guys had.  But no.  Despite constantly reminding myself of the Almighty’s guiding hand, I could lock up the gold, silver AND bronze medal in the Worry Olympics.  I worry about everything, constantly.  And it drives me absolutely nuts.  If Daniel could handle the lions’ den, Samson kill 1,000 enemies with a donkey’s jawbone, and Paul get shipwrecked three times (not to mention amicably attending his own beheading), you’d think I could stop sweating a 30-minute business meeting in which I would suffer no bodily harm.  And yet, I worry.  I may never learn, which frustrates me even further.

Normally, I try to stay positive on this blog, but I just wasn’t up to slapping a happy face on things today.  Thanks for reading, and I’ll do my best to be more upbeat in my next post.

Until next time… : |

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Decent People, All Around Us


by Keith Yancy

Maybe you are like me. 

Maybe you find that reading the news — with its inexhaustible supply of crime reports, dire predictions, scandals, and hollow “newz” about celebrities — to be relentlessly depressing.  Maybe you have issues with difficult people at work, at home, or elsewhere.  Maybe you haven’t seen close friends, or even close family, in much, much too long. 

Maybe the combination of all these factors makes you feel increasingly, inevitably more isolated, despite the frenetic busy-ness of everyday life and technology designed to keep us connected.

And maybe it takes just one small incident to shake you out of that thinking, to remind you that despite all the negative “noise” which can threaten us, there’s still good, decent people all around us.  People who, with simple acts of kindness, or a smile, or just a thoughtful gesture, tap our proverbial shoulders and show us that there are still plenty of good people in the world.

I’ve witnessed several such examples over the past few weeks.  Strangers who didn’t think of themselves first, who helped me for no real reason or reward, who went beyond a job description to “do the right thing,” when there was nothing extra to be gained by doing so.  Consider some recent personal experiences: 

The Guys Who Stopped to Help.  One night not long ago, I blew out a tire and stopped to change it.  Even though I stopped under a street light, it was still dark, still hard to see, and I drive a pretty large vehicle.  While many people drove past, two complete strangers — for no reason at all — stopped to make sure I didn’t need any help.  One even stayed and used the headlights on his vehicle to give me enough light to change the tire more easily. 

As we talked, he told me about his family (they were out of town), we talked about our jobs, and a local celebrity who lived nearby.  Despite the fact that it was a holiday weekend, and he probably had way more interesting things to do, he stayed until I finished putting the spare tire on, and — once we both laughed about how dirty my hands were — we fist-bumped a parting thanks.  He had no ulterior motive, there was nothing “in it” for him, he just wanted to help.  And he did.

The Plymouth Township Little Caesars Guy.  Ever try to get two cheese pizzas at 10:00AM?  That’s what my wife was trying to do for my daughter’s last day of school pizza party.  Problem is, there aren’t any pizza places typically open that early in the day. 

Nevertheless, my wife called the night before, and asked if they were open that early.  The employee, once he told her they weren’t, asked what she needed: in this case, two cheese pizzas (apparently, 9-year-olds aren’t strong for toppings).  After a brief pause, the guy told my wife that, even though the store wasn’t open, if she stopped by at 10AM, he’d have the pizzas ready for her.  No additional charges, no ostentatious windage about opening early, just someone going out of his way to help someone get pizzas to a school party.  And because he did, we will be customers at the Little Caesar’s on the corner of Sheldon and Plymouth Road for the foreseeable future.

The Plymouth Home Depot team.  Yes, I know, they’re trained to provide good customer service.  But it’s one thing to go through the motions, and quite another to come across as genuine.  I’m there quite often (as my house is constantly falling apart), and I can’t recall a single visit where someone didn’t greet me, ask me if I needed anything, and offer assistance when I asked.

In fact, it’s gone beyond simply acting friendly.  I’ve discussed plumbing problems with their plumbing expert, who saved me a lot of time and money with his advice.  I’ve discussed painting needs with their paint consultants, who helped me avoid mistakes.  In fact, whenever I’ve had a home improvement problem, I’ve always found someone on staff who was able to help me, even when it meant spending less at their store.  They don’t have to go the extra mile, but they do… and I appreciate it.

The “bee guy.”  Yes, I have a honeybee infestation in my house — a large hive.  Tom, who works for Pest Masters in Livonia, came out to get rid of them.  Not only did he answer my endless supply of questions with patience and insight, but he took the time to teach me a few things about honeybees (all of which were disconcerting, considering they are living in the walls of my house). 

But perhaps the thing about Tom I remember most is what he DIDN’T say about a competitive pest control company we had used previously.  Once he heard we had used them, he went out of his way to explain why a) they were a very good company, and b) their lack of success wasn’t a reflection on the company, just the severity of my infestation.  He could have easily taken a cheap shot at a competitor, but didn’t.  He took the time to explain everything, told me about his own beekeeping challenges, and offered a referral for the inevitable drywall repairs that will result from removing the bees and their hive.

I know none of these people personally.  And yes, a more jaundiced eye might see, in the case of the business examples, employees simply demonstrating “customer service.”  But I don’t think so.  I see examples of customer service every day, in which people follow the script of acting friendly and helpful while their attitude, body language and overall demeanor scream “leave me alone.”  Authenticity can be seen by going beyond the job description: going int0 work early (to make a pizza!), showing patience and kindness when no one’s watching, demonstrating integrity when it may even run counter to your own business interests. 

It’s little instances like these that confirm for me that there are many, many good people still in this world, even if they’re not covered in the news.  They’re all around us, if we choose to look for them.  Recognizing that fact reminds me that doing things for others, whether it’s helping change a tire, offering a kind word, or helping someone just for the sake of doing so makes the world that much better and brighter.

And maybe others will feel that way too.

Until next time… 🙂

Dead Fish and the Struggle to Save Detroit


Photo of Detroit skyline courtesy of Rob Terwilliger Photography.

by Keith Yancy

Senseless.

That’s the first word that came to mind when I heard the news today — that someone poisoned the fish in the Belle Isle Aquarium in Detroit.

First, a bit of background: the Belle Isle Aquarium has been closed for years.  Once a key attraction on the beautiful island of Belle Isle, a small island in the Detroit River, it had long ago been closed and fallen like so many other city landmarks into disrepair.  Recently, a small group of volunteers had worked hard to refurbish the aquarium, and had at long last returned fish to the repaired fish tanks.  All this effort was to culminate in a public viewing before the Grand Prix race which was to be held on the island June 3.

For those who had worked so hard for so long, this was a milestone event.  And then, in the news today, stories were printed (incorrectly, it turned out) that, in an act of utter senselessness, someone vandalized the Aquarium’s tanks, pouring bleach into them and killing the fish.

Before I learned that this incident was misreported, I found myself surprisingly angry about it.  After all… people had worked, without pay, to try to give Detroit back a small jewel, just one gem on a city crown virtually stripped of every precious stone it had.  It’s a small symbol of what so many people in this region hope for — a renewal of a once proud city.  And while no one expected Detroit’s crushing problems to go away with the revival of an aging landmark, it was — and is — a sign that the city can rise up from its ashes to be great once more.

To many, at least judging by the comments in the news and on social media, it felt like a punch in the gut.  It hit me the same way.  Later in the evening, however, I learned that there was no vandalism; there was a mass die-off of fish, but there was no poison, no vandals, and that the aquarium and most of the fish inside were just fine.

But before the story was refuted, I was talking about it with my 17-year-old daughter (who was depressed about the news of the Aquarium also).  It occurred to me as we were talking that this incident, while sad, paled in comparison to what goes on in Detroit every single day.  Murders that happen so frequently, people become numb to the news of them (even when infants and children are killed).  Neighborhoods so blighted and burned out that city officials are considering the possibility of not fixing the streetlights — in essence, abandoning them.  A political system that seems only to produce scandals, incompetence, infighting, and a consistent, pervasive failure to overcome Detroit’s many challenges.

When I stopped and really, clearly thought about Detroit, it occurred to me that maybe the reason I was so annoyed and deflated about a few dozen dead fish was because I had forgotten a very essential point: turning around a city gripped in a 50+ year decline takes much, much more than cleaning up fish tanks and repairing crumbling city landmarks.

It takes finding leaders that care more about the city than their egos (and their wallets).  It takes — once and for all — cutting through the endless maze of regulations and paperwork that inhibits businesses from investing here.  It takes creating neighborhoods — not just landmarks and businesses — that provide Detroit with a stable tax base.  It takes providing children with schools, teachers, and funds necessary to break the bonds of poverty and give them the high-quality education they need to truly achieve success.  It takes Detroiters, suburbanites, and the rest of Michigan’s citizens working together for the benefit of all.

Bringing Detroit out of its death spiral will be long, hard, and costly.  The work of the Friends of Belle Isle, a group of volunteers dedicated to preserving the island, is greatly appreciated by me and everyone else… but it will take more, much more, to bring Detroit back.  For every dead fish in that aquarium, there are three or four dead people every year, city residents who should be alive today… but aren’t.  For all the anger and disappointment people may have felt about this now-refuted senseless act of vandalism, there are decades of neglect, corruption and indifference that created an environment that such vandalism is commonplace.  For every landmark that today’s civic-minded activists attempt to save, there are entire swaths of land where neighborhoods lie in darkness, marked by empty, weed-filled lots, burned out houses, and rampant criminal activity.

Killing fish at the Belle Isle Aquarium, had it been true, would have been a heartless and stupid act.  Thinking back to my angry and depressed reaction to the story, though, made me realize that the forces that hold Detroit in its grip — poverty, crime, hopelessness — aren’t easily defeated.  I’m sure that the good people who worked so hard to refurbish the Belle Isle Aquarium see this as a minor setback rather than a defeat, and I’m glad that this false news report didn’t serve to demoralize other volunteers and workers who struggle every day to improve the city. 

To do so — to give up hope that Detroit can and should be saved — is the one sure way to ensure Detroit falls further into despair and ruin.  A failed, defeated and destroyed Detroit, contrary to popular opinion, is bad for the region, bad for the state, and bad even for the country. 

Thankfully, those reports of intentionally poisoned fish in the Belle Isle Aquarium were a false alarm, and that there was no crime committed.  Still, for those few hours when everyone thought the aquarium had been vandalized, those dead fish were a sad reminder that, sometimes, the good guys don’t always win.  Decades of crime, poverty and neglect can’t be easily or quickly wiped away by a small group of volunteers, no matter how dedicated they may be.  Margaret Thatcher, one-time Prime Minister of Great Britain, once said that sometimes you have to fight a battle more than once to win it.  I hope that people keep fighting, keep working, keep struggling to bring Detroit back.

The struggle is worth it.  People care.  The hope, motivation, and hard work shown by those who care about Detroit is far, far stronger and far more enduring than any single act of vandalism, and certainly stronger than a bunch of  unfortunate fish in a fish tank.

I look forward to seeing the Belle Isle Aquarium, restored, with new fish inside.  And I look forward to a renewed Belle Isle, a renewed Detroit, and better days ahead.

Until next time… 🙂

boneyards


Kinyon Cemetery, Canton, Michigan.

by Keith Yancy

Like so many people nowadays, I’ve been working a lot lately.  Meetings.  Deadlines.  Schedules.  The pace seems breakneck, the list of things to do endless.  And when the demands seem overwhelming, I find myself thinking about “the larger things” — those elements of our existence that transcend the day-to-day routine.  Focusing on the enduring aspects of life, rather than the endless minor issues of our daily lives that always threaten to wash over us.

Last Sunday, while attending our family church service, the congregation said a prayer asking that, one day, we would rejoin in heaven those who had departed in death before us.  I found myself thinking about this prayer long after the service, and it brought back to my mind a wonderful book I had purchased early last year — Boneyards, by Richard Bak.

Boneyards, by Richard Bak.

Boneyards, at first glance, looks like both a coffee-table picture book and a collection of the macabre; picture after picture of funerals, cemeteries, and headstones.  The title even suggests a bit of tongue-in-cheek approach to the contents.  But the reason I recalled this book wasn’t for the pictures or the mischievous title — it was for the wonderful, tragic, and certainly memorable stories that the author tells about those who have, indeed, departed in death before us. 

Among the most memorable pictures and stories, for me, include:

  • Children sledding down a hill in Elmwood Cemetery in 1885.  A grainy black-and-white photo shows young kids sledding among the headstones of the deceased.  I know it’s completely inconsistent with my belief that cemeteries should be places of quiet and respect, but I can’t help secretly thinking that, if it were my headstone and grave, I’d enjoy knowing that kids were sledding nearby. 
  • A voodoo cult leader who, along with his family, was murdered in 1929.  Even the Catholic priest who presided over his funeral doubted that the man truly believed in the bizarre cult he tried to create, and was convinced that he did it solely to make money.
  • A 62-year-old farmer who, in 1892, killed his wife in a grisly murder-suicide after a domestic dispute.  Even in his suicide note, he was so angry with his wife that he asked that she not be buried on his land. 
  • Pictures of headstones showing people of all faiths, ethnic backgrounds, and races, equals in death if not treated as equals in life.
  • Soldiers who served and, in many cases, died for our country.  The years between birth and death far too close together, these graves show that many were still teenagers when they died, child-soldiers in some of mankind’s most horrific wars.  My own child is only two years younger than some of these boys (yes, boys), and I can’t imagine her facing the hell on earth these kids were asked to face.
  • Graves — and entire cemeteries — that not only rarely if ever get a visitor, but in many instances are almost entirely inaccessible.  Monuments that were once erected to proudly mark important people and families, now partially submerged in water and surrounded by abandoned factories, urban decay and a neighborhood oblivious to who they once were. 
  • Grave sites and pictures of famous people, along with weathered gravestones where the name is lost to time.  Wealthy people with their name carved on a mausoleum, and paupers marked only with a number on a stone.  Leaders and ordinary citizens.  Mothers, fathers, infants.  All with a story to tell, even if it’s simply, “I lived.” 
  • And, the most piercing memory of all, two small pictures of a 7-year-old girl and her headstone.  This girl didn’t die of illness, she was murdered on her way to school, her body dumped in a blanket far from her home.  The murder was never solved, though the detective who handled the case still remembers it vividly.  The image of that little girl, her life taken away so young, is one that may never leave my memory.  Perhaps it’s because I see her as a father would, and can glimpse — if only for a moment, in a small, fleeting way — the never-ending agony a parent must feel to lose a child.  She was murdered in 1955. 

How do such stories — from a book that illustrates Detroit-area cemeteries — relate to a weary, rumpled, working father like myself?  Most of these stories seem so sad, so marked by tragedy.  Yet the stories in Boneyards remind me not of death, but rather of the wonderful tapestry of lives lived, of people who faced many of the same dangers and problems we face today, of people loved and lost. 

But, perhaps more importantly, it reminds me that one of our most common cultural myths — that today’s society is getting steadily worse, and that people are somehow more evil and brutal than those in the past — is just not true.  Murder, heartbreak, sickness — these have been with us throughout time, in every land and town, everywhere.  The photographs in Boneyards and the silent gravestones in cemeteries in our neighborhoods provide testimony to that fact.   

Our culture is one marked by the bizarre duality of instant connectivity and cultural isolation, in which we too often sit alone with our computers and televisions as we’re inundated with “news” that’s too often a collection of our sins, mistakes and failures.  I believe it’s easy to fall prey to the idea that all the negative attributes of humanity have somehow become worse in our time.  But I believe that we are getting better, we are getting wiser, that with the advances of education, travel, modern medicine and science, we are improving the human condition and the dignity of mankind. 

Perhaps we’re not moving as fast as we would like.  Perhaps its hard to see the progress when we only see the setbacks.  But I believe that, one day, we’ll look back on these times and realize that we have made progress, that the majority of people want peace, freedom and prosperity, and that our society is capable of growth and improvement. 

So when my life gets too stressful, I think of those who have gone before us.  As my daughters know well, I do stop occasionally to take in the silence of such local cemeteries as Shearer Cemetery in Plymouth or Kinyon Cemetery in Canton.  Not to reflect on death… but to reflect on life, my gratitude for the life I have and those around me, and my recognition that these times — for all their challenges — are still “the best of times.”

Until next time… 🙂

An Open Letter Against Book Bans in Plymouth


by Keith Yancy

I had considered not publishing this until tomorrow, but I’ve discovered that people can voice their opinions on banning books in a college-level AP class in Plymouth at suggestions@pccs.net, and since the board doesn’t meet until tomorrow, it allows people to voice their objections to censorship.  Remember, this is a college-level class.  You can certainly refer to my recent posts regarding this issue to hear arguments I have regarding this issue.  I’ve included my last letter to the school administration below, and may (time and schedule permitting) attend a school board meeting tomorrow.

Below is the letter I sent this morning.

____________________

 

January 16, 2012

Dr. Jeremy Hughes, Interim Superintendent, PCCS

John Barrett, Board President, PCCS

Adrienne Davis, Board Member

Mark Horvath, Board Member

Michael Maloney, Board Member

Judy Mardigan, Board Member

Sheila Paton, Board Member

Barry Simescu, Board Member

An Open Letter to the Interim Superintendent and the Plymouth-Canton School Board

Dear Dr. Hughes:

My name is Keith Yancy.  I am the father of Meredith Yancy, an AP Literature student at Salem High School.  I am writing this letter to you and the Plymouth School Board to express my disappointment with recent changes – and proposed changes – to the AP English curriculum. 

Let me be very clear: I, like many other parents, am outraged about what has taken place, and am incensed that a one group of parents has affected the choices of all AP Literature students. 

But first, let me share with you some facts.  I am a husband and father of three daughters.  I do not promote or endorse pornography.  I do not believe college-level reading material should be forced upon students.  But I do believe in providing college-level reading material in an AP-level Literature course.  I believe that it’s better to prepare my child to recognize, understand and learn from challenging ideas rather than prevent her from seeing them.  Most importantly, I believe my daughter’s rights (and the rights of other students) have not been adequately considered.

The parents in question (and “P-CAP,” the organization to which they belong) state, “This is not a book de-selection issue.  This is a parent’s rights issue and flawed process issue.”  That statement, however, is clearly incorrect.  The efforts of this group have resulted in a de facto “book de-selection” (read: ban) already, and threaten to result in another book’s removal.  Furthermore, had the true intent of these parents been about defending a process, then a review of the material in question should have occurred prior to the book’s removal, or (preferably) in an open forum prior to the start of the school year.  To remove a book from the curriculum due to a parent’s complaint amounts to correcting one procedural error with another.

This parent group has also asserted the following on their web site: “We believe, as Dr. Hughes does, that if the majority of the residents of the community were aware of the contents of these books, they would object to them.”   Dr. Hughes, I am a parent.  I am aware of the contents of these books.  And – like many, many other parents – I do not object to them, but encourage their study.  These books are not focused on sexuality, do not satisfy the legal definition of pornography, and are considered outstanding works of literature by recognized authorities.  Perhaps most importantly, I do not need other parents or a dubious organization like “P-CAP” to project their opinions and choices on my child’s curriculum – or presume that I am somehow not “aware.”

Additionally, whispers among the parents suggest that, if this group does not succeed, they will “read selected passages aloud” to the school board to alert them to the “dangers” of the books in question.  I am not frightened of such a possibility, and you shouldn’t be either.  It’s obvious to any discerning person that selecting only the salacious passages from any book ignores the larger context of the book in question, and cannot be adequate evidence for drawing an informed conclusion about a book’s value or legitimacy. 

I won’t belabor other legitimate objections, such as the requirements of the AP Literature test, the fact that such parents had ample opportunity to review the syllabus prior to the start of the academic year, or that parents in favor of the books were not allowed to directly rebut this group’s emotional and illogical arguments at a recent committee meeting.  Each of these objections has merit, but perhaps none is as important as the basic question that now rests before you:

Are all of you truly ready and willing to ban these books?

I do not envy you, Dr. Hughes, because you and the school board have a significant choice before you.  If you retain these books in the curriculum, then sensationalized attacks from those who choose only salacious passages from literature (e.g., “P-CAP”) could create a media firestorm, and perhaps even legal action from those claiming these books to be pornographic.  Of course, if you choose to ban these books, you’ll face an even greater media firestorm from those who support intellectual freedom, and potential legal action from those who would defend the First Amendment.

Dr. Hughes, I implore you and the members of the Plymouth School Board to recognize that your choice should be clear: these books should remain in the curriculum.  If a parent demands an alternative text for their child, provide one, and let that option be presented prior to the beginning of the school year.  To give in to the demands of a select few to impose their moral standards on the majority, however, is unequivocally wrong.  As a person who has earned a doctorate degree, Dr. Hughes, you know as well as anyone the value of intellectual freedom, and the inherent risk of selective attempts to limit that freedom, because you must recognize that such limits can quickly escalate to other books, other subjects, and beyond.

I remain cautiously optimistic that the school administration, including yourself and the Plymouth School Board, will recognize these recent events as what they truly are: a sad, tired refrain of the failed arguments of limited thinking.  Banning books has always been negatively viewed by the American public, and history shows that such efforts usually (and rightfully) fail.  Even now, the public at large is rallying to defend intellectual freedom and voice its opposition to censorship.  For instance: 

  • Unflattering articles regarding this misguided local effort to ban books (again, masked as “upholding process”) has already been published on the mlive.com news web site, as well as the New York Post.  
  • Another article discussing the PCCS situation, under the subtitle of “Censorship,” was published in Media Bistro – a popular on-line, media-oriented web site.
  • An individual has publicly offered to provide Waterland or Beloved free of charge to any PCCS student who requests a copy. 
  • Former students, academics, and citizens from around the country are joining local parents like me and my wife, expressing outrage and opposition to the removal of these books from the curriculum.  Many of these people are preparing their own letters for your review.
  • Citizens from around the country are already alleging that the effort to ban Beloved is racially motivated.  (I encourage you to review Toni Morrison’s public Facebook page and web site for corroboration.)
  • Parents opposed to censorship are already preparing to speak publicly via radio and other broadcast media.

In other words, the opportunity to keep this issue “local” is gone, and the attempt to restrict access of the books is failing.  Thanks to the power of social media, the motivated parents of PCCS students, and the predictable outrage American citizens always express at the thought of banning books, individuals who wish to impose their beliefs on all students – not just their own children – will find it impossible to work in the shadows or hide behind closed-door, bureaucratic “process meetings” any longer.  If these voices of censorship succeed, negative coverage of Plymouth’s school system, and its curriculum, will be persistent, widespread and prominent.  Such negative coverage could only be seen as a detriment for our students, your administration, our school board’s leadership, and our community as a whole.

It would be a very sad day to see Plymouth added to the dark list of communities that banned books of literature.  Take a stand for your students, your faculty, your community and your integrity, and reject yet another shrill and hollow attempt to ban controversial works of literature.  The citizens of Plymouth – and people across the country – are watching.

Respectfully,

Keith Yancy

_______________

We shall see.

Until next time… : |

Banning books. It’s alive and well… and as narrow-minded and frightening as ever.


by Keith Yancy

NOTE: The following letter was written in response to a situation unfolding at my high-school-age daughter’s school.  In short, a group of parents are trying to remove several books from an Advanced Placement Literature class, despite the class being voluntary and parents being provided with a detailed syllabus prior to the start of the year.  After a few outspoken parents protested, a committee meeting was held, at which the parents protesting had the opportunity to speak.  This meeting, held at the curious time of 5:00PM (prohibitively early for me to attend, and, I assume, many other working parents), did not allow parents with opposing viewpoints to address the committee.  Teachers were allowed the opportunity to defend their curricula, however, and other parents were allowed to submit written opinions. 

Sadly, this drama is all-too familiar.  Books such as Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five,” Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” and Orwell’s “1984” faced similar such efforts over the years… and have rightfully, in time, become classics of American literature.  But even now, there remain those who would rather choose censorship rather than expose their high-school-age adolescents to new ideas, challenging views, and the latest generations’ emerging classics. 

The following letter was written by me, and I received a note acknowledging they received it.  I have not enjoyed the privilege of a response.

[name withheld]

Assistant Principal, __________ High School

December 23, 2011

Dear Mr. ________:

My name is Keith Yancy.  I am the father of M——- Yancy, a student in Mr. _______’s AP English class.  I am writing to express my disappointment regarding recent and proposed changes to the curriculum for this class.  My reasons are as follows:

1.  Reading controversial literature is fundamental to the course’s purpose and intent.  The very purpose of the course, and the reason works such as Waterland, Beloved, Heart of Darkness and Maus were chosen for study, is to inspire intellectual curiosity, explore new points of view and experiences, and develop the rigor of mind necessary for college-level literary analysis and criticism.  It is obvious, therefore, that learners cannot do that without necessarily reading works of literature that only expresses one ideology or only “politically correct” point of view.  This course was designed to challenge students beyond their worldview in an academic, structured setting, providing the guidance necessary for students to develop intellectually. 

2.  The content and quality of the books in question is, in fact, appropriate for the class.  Beloved, a book currently being challenged as “inappropriate,” was a Pulitzer Prize-winning book, and was (as recently as 2006) ranked as the best work of American fiction of the past 25 years in a New York Times survey of literary critics.  Waterland was considered for a Booker Prize.  These books, and others like them, explore controversial and sometimes unpleasant topics.  Unfortunately for those who refuse to progress past 1950s-era thinking, these topics are part of our everyday lives (and, notably, the lives of our children).  Racial issues, homosexuality, rape… one need only look at the current movie listings in today’s paper to see examples of these topics in our culture, entertainment, and social consciousness.  But in the case of these literary works, such topics are elements of the story, not the story itself.  If one parent can have a book omitted for including such content, there will be very, very few books on the syllabus.  Avoidance of such topics is, in my opinion, irresponsible; having my daughter read these works, in a structured, academic environment, was a driving reason for enrolling her in Mr. _______’s class.

3.  The manner in which this curriculum change was made was simply unacceptable.  This reason is, perhaps, the least ambiguous of all.  One outspoken parent should not affect the study of every other student, nor should one parent presume to speak for anyone else.  The course syllabus was provided prior to start of the class, and the time for such protest was then.  This AP course is, as I understand it, an “opt-in” course, one which people must apply to get their student into the class.  If the reading list or course content is unacceptable to an individual parent, then they should find another class for their child, rather than affect the learning of every other student in the course.  Furthermore, if the motivation for taking the course is simply to improve their child’s academic record by having an AP course on their transcript, they’ve missed the entire point of the course, and their child should never have been approved for inclusion in the course.  AP English should never be a course for “grade chasers,” but rather only for students truly interested in intellectual growth, literary analysis and preparation for the rigors of college-level study.  To my knowledge, no other parents were queried regarding the situation, and I was only informed of what was happening because my daughter expressed disappointment about it.  In summary, this entire process is deeply, deeply flawed, and must not be allowed to be repeated (or continued).

4.  The implications for the faculty and the school are deeply troubling.  I was highly impressed with the professionalism, enthusiasm, and dedication displayed by Mr. _______ [the teacher] when we discussed the intent and details of this course.  But I can only guess at the resentment and disappointment Mr. _______ must feel to have his curriculum revised after having published it over 3 months ago.  I expect him to have the necessary discernment and contextual intelligence to choose appropriate and relevant literature for such a class, and I have been pleased with his choices.  To have them censored by the shrill protests of a single parent — who, unlike Mr. _______, never shared his/her point of view with anyone — is appalling.  Furthermore, for the school administration to not defend the published and (presumably) pre-approved course curriculum of its faculty is, in my opinion, shameful.  Even if I were a protesting parent, I would be astonished if a singular complaint made by myself resulted in a curriculum change for dozens of other students.  I would hope that any curriculum worth the administration’s approval at the beginning of the school year is one worth defending during the school year.

In conclusion, Mr. _________, a parent may foolishly choose to wall the world’s unpleasantness out from their children’s life, but such thinking only delays intellectual and spiritual development.  The strongest faith, the highest conviction, and the most profound beliefs can only be useful if they can withstand opposition and challenge.  Having our students shielded from various worldviews and experiences limits intellectual growth and undermines their readiness for higher learning.  Censoring the pre-approved curriculum for this AP English class, while convenient in the face of a vocal parent’s misguided protests, displays a lack of support for the faculty, for the many parents who knowingly signed up their children for the class, and — perhaps most importantly — for the very purpose of the class: to challenge and develop the intellectual abilities of _______ High School’s most talented students. 

It is my hope that the administration of the [district school system] re-examines this situation, and has the integrity to do what is clearly the right thing: to let the curriculum stand.

Respectfully,

Keith Yancy

___________________________

 At the time of this post, a decision on whether to remove books deemed “controversial” has not been made.  I’m looking forward to hearing what the decision will be, and what can be done if these books are, in fact, removed from the curriculum.  If such a vocal group of parents can affect my child’s curriculum over my wishes, what else will they be able to change?  Internet access at school?  Current Events class topics?  Musical selections in the school orchestra?

I hope the committee is equal to their task. 

Until next time… : |

The Forgotten Boys of Summer


by Keith Yancy

This may seem like a blog about sports, but it really isn’t.  

I’m an admitted baseball fan.  I like most sports, but the one I enjoy the most is baseball, and listening to my Tigers annual attempt to win the World Series.  Over the last few weeks, though, my team — due to a near-epidemic of injuries — has swooned, playing a number of rookies and losing regularly. 

This isn’t new, though.  Every summer, the stars we’re used to rooting for (or against) are regularly supplemented by fresh faces from the minor leagues.  A few come up to the majors and stay, but many surface only for a few days, or weeks, or maybe even a season or two, displaying flashes of brilliance before time and repetition reveals their skills to be insufficient, or their timing unfortunate, or their opportunity gone.

We root for them when they’re here, and — usually — forget them when they’re gone.  After all… they’re paid very, very well in the major leagues, earning more in a few weeks than some people make in a year.  They get the chance of a lifetime, playing in front of tens of thousands of people.  Hearing the cheers, the jeers, the boos.  Playing with (or against) their heroes or villains that together represent the best of their profession.  Getting treated like stars, traveling in style, staying in luxury hotels, eating like kings.

Overall, sounds like a great deal. 

But for all the upside, I’m guessing that for these fringe players — the “forgotten boys of summer” — it’s a tougher life than we think.  Unlike most of us, their lives aren’t marked by quiet desperation; theirs is very much a public struggle.  While everyday people like myself invest time, effort and sacrifice in a career lasting decades, these guys often find the focus of their efforts culminating in a precious few days, or weeks, or months.  If I make mistakes, chances are it won’t define my entire career… but for them, a bad week, or a few tough days, can be the pivotal moments of years of effort and preparation.  And failure can mean watching your dream slip away.  Permanently.

Who of us would be fine knowing that the pinnacle of your career was not only in your past, but was reached at the age of 27?  24?  20?   While we may tell ourselves that the money these players earn is worth the pressure, or that the attention or the temporary lifestyle makes it worth it, my guess is that it doesn’t.  These guys work hard, sacrifice, and dream just like us.  Having that evaporate — publicly — when you’re barely old enough to claim adulthood has to be a difficult experience.

Then there’s the aftermath.  For most people, the realization that you won’t become President, CEO, or “top dog” in your world may not come until you’re well invested in your career — 30s, 40s or even in your 50s.  For many, that’s not much of a problem… for others, perhaps a source of regret (or bitterness, I suppose).  But few of us have to watch fresh faces regularly passing us by on way up the achievement ladder.  Imagine if you not only had to watch younger, more talented people take your job, or get into the level of management/status you’d worked your life to achieve.  Every year. 

These guys, the forgotten boys of summer, sure do.  I’m reminded of Kevin Costner’s character in Bull Durham, riding on a hot bus in the minor leagues, reflecting on the highlight of his career: 21 days at the major league level.  Bull Durham, though intended to be comedy, did a great job of capturing this grim reality of professional sports.  Costner’s character wasn’t just a player who failed to achieve his dream — he was expected to help others achieve theirs. 

How many of us would like being in that situation?

On a whim, I did a quick search to see where some of Detroit’s own forgotten boys of summer have gone.  Here’s a sampling below. 

Dusty Ryan, age 25, catcher.  Came up as a late-season call-up, played a few games, didn’t show enough to warrant another chance.  Was recently playing for the Portland Sea Dogs minor league team.

Jason Grilli, age 33, pitcher.  Stuck around for a season or two before bad pitching earned him a trade.  Bounced around a few teams, signed minor league contract with Columbus Clippers and hurt his knee.

Clay Rapada, age 29, pitcher.  Had some success, but couldn’t stay on the major league roster.  Traded, then demoted, now pitching for the Oklahoma City RedHawks.

Luke French, age 24, pitcher.  Played a few games in Detroit, then spent time in the minor leagues pitching for the Tacoma Rainiers.  Currently added to the Seattle Mariners roster, hoping to stay.

Brent Clevlen, age 26, outfielder.  Once pegged as a potential star, couldn’t stick on the big-league roster, despite a few chances.  Wound up with Atlanta, designated for assignment (probably demoted to the minor leagues) just today.

Mike Moroth, age 32, pitcher.  Had some success — and failure — with Detroit, losing 21 games one year.  Been signed and later released by St. Louis, Kansas City, Toronto, and Minnesota.  Currently injured but on the roster of the Rochester Red Wings.

These are just a few examples of players who have once played for Detroit, now moved onto other towns and other teams.  Most have not been able to stay in the major leagues, and most have bounced from team to team, hoping for an opportunity.  Realistically, most — perhaps all — won’t ever stay long at the major league level.  A few, like Moroth and Grilli, are probably considering retirement, because they know too well that their value and potential is waning, their chances lengthening, their roster spots becoming prey to younger players.

These guys earn a good living, for the most part, and I’m not suggesting we shed tears for them.  I do think, however, that the world of baseball — of all professional sports — is much more than bright lights and big paychecks.  For most, it’s not years of celebrity and success; instead, it’s an elusive dream, a fleeting moment, a few precious days or weeks.  It’s hard work, unmet expectations, and lost opportunities.

The forgotten boys of summer.  Sometimes — frequently — celebrity isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.  I’m glad — and hopeful — that my career isn’t likely to be judged by a few days or weeks amidst decades of hard work and effort.

Until next time… : )

A Time of Quiet Desperation


by Keith Yancy

About five months ago, I was looking for one of my youngest daughter’s textbooks, and had the misfortune of looking through her school backpack.  (I say “misfortune” because Clara has no understanding that bad, bad things happen to bananas when flattened and left for days at the bottom of a bookbag.  Yuck.)  While I didn’t find the book, a small card fell out of one of the pockets.  It only had five words written on it, but it immediately caught my attention.  The card simply read, “Clara’s dad needs a job.” 

At first, I was amused, as I already had a job.  Not long before, I had accepted a new position with another company while my job — and my former employer — was shut down permanently.  Unlike so many of my friends and colleagues, I had managed to stay employed in an economy that still finds new jobs to be a rarity.  But after my initial reaction, I stopped and stared at that card for a long, long time, still kneeling next to my daughter’s backpack.  It was obvious by the handwriting that she didn’t write it.  Why would someone else write that? 

Of course, I asked the person who always knows what’s going on in our family — my wife.  She softly reminded me that, every week, my daughter’s schoolteacher writes down student prayer requests for their weekly chapel service.  I realized — at last — that all my efforts to keep my employment stress away from my 7-year-old were a complete failure.  Stupidly, I had never really expected my precarious job situation to really register with my youngest child.  As is so often the case, though, kids prove more intelligent, more aware, and display more simple wisdom than the adults in their lives expect.  She observed what was going on with her dad, recognized what was needed, and did what she’d been taught to do: she prayed for her dad.  And when she was invited to have other people pray for her dad, she did that too.

I’m not ashamed to say that I kept that card from my kid’s backpack.  In fact, I took it to work the very next day, and it sits in plain sight on my desk, right next to my phone.  It reminds me of how fortunate I am to earn a living — and how much my problems can affect my bright, sensitive 7-year-old.

I’ve learned a few things from that episode, and from that simple index card.  No matter how tough or long or discouraging a day I might be having, I remember that card, and thank God that I can still provide for my family.  I remember to appreciate my work, my co-workers, and my workplace.  I’ve learned to have a steady appreciation for the opportunities I have, and a renewed sense of empathy for those less fortunate than I am who still struggle to find a job.

Living in Detroit, there’s no way that anyone can miss the tell-tale signs of our staggering economy.  I’ve had friends and family members lose their jobs — albeit temporarily — and struggle with bills, their confidence, and their career plans.  Some of the hardest working, most dedicated people I’ve ever known becoming victims of layoffs.  Houses in nearby neighborhoods sitting empty, with lawns overgrown and faded “For Sale” signs bearing grim testimony to someone’s altered lives.  Neighbors who, only a year or so ago, had shiny new cars, now replaced with older — much older — used cars.  Local stores and shops now closed and dark, choked out of existence because their clientele can’t afford them anymore.  

I’ve read quite a bit lately about the erosion of the American middle class, and while I hope it’s not true, it’s hard to ignore the evidence.  I sometimes feel like I’m living the modern-day version of a “life of quiet desperation” — paying the bills, hoping for better days in the future, but ever-wary of potential financial disaster on the doorstep.  Struggling to save a nest egg while trying to not notice how my modest retirement savings’ value goes down, up, and down again.  Daily trying to break the habit of reviewing various “financial doomsday” scenarios in my mind.  Constantly second-guessing my career choices and purchase decisions.

And, my guess is, I’m pretty much like most other people these days.

I still hope for the best.  I’m grateful for what I have, the opportunities I’ve been blessed with, the good fortune of not having had to face unemployment.  Lord knows I’m grateful for my wife, my family, and my health.  But I wonder when I can start to feel better about the future.  I wonder when I won’t need to bury myself in the “busy-ness” of everyday life to avoid worrying about my long-term plans.  I wonder what kind of future my kids will have, and whether I’ll be able to provide for their educations, their weddings, or even my own retirement.

In the meantime, I have a plain, white, 3 x 5 index card with five simple words written on it.  Those five words keep me grateful for what I have… and mindful of what could have been.

Until next time… : |

Driving on Eggshells


by Keith Yancy

The other day, a radio program was taking callers on the topic of being “profiled” by police — in this instance, getting pulled over by police for little or no legitimate reason.  Many of the callers were minorities, with tales of being pulled over in the suburbs… along with several who were not minorities being pulled over in Detroit.

And it made me remember an incident that happened to me a long time ago.

When I was in my early 20s, my girlfriend — now my wife — lived on one side of town, while I lived about 30 miles away on the other side of Detroit.  I would typically stay at her house until about midnight, at which time I’d drink a couple of cups of coffee and drive through Detroit back to my house.  At that time, I looked very much like Napoleon Dynamite (and dressed like him too), and drove a very non-descript two-door black economy car.  No fancy wheels, no turbocharged engine, just a plain, basic car.  I made a point of following the speed limit, using my turn signals, etc.  I would drive carefully — some of the areas I drove through were not very safe — and stayed awake and alert all the way home.

Which is why it was such a surprise when the local police in my wife’s town began following me — nearly every night.

I usually was at her house on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays — and apparently, the police either figured out my schedule, or (more ominously) just began to systematically follow me.  A lot.  Often enough to become near-routine.  They’d identify my car on Moross, or even in the neighborhood side streets before I got to Moross, and the procession began.  I’d drive exactly the posted speed limit, keep both hands on the wheel, and watch my rearview mirror for the entire trip to I-94, which was maybe a mile.   It was “driving on eggshells” — the driving equivalent of walking on eggshells, hoping I didn’t make a mistake.

And, with predictable regularity, a police car would directly follow me… right to the on-ramp of the I-94 freeway, which is essentially the border of my wife’s hometown.  It was hardly a dangerous part of my drive; in fact, it was one of the safer parts of the trip, and yet I had a police escort.  I remember frequently getting on the freeway and breathing a sigh of relief to be driving into Detroit, late at night, as the police car’s headlights pulled to the side of the on-ramp and watched me drive away.

Perhaps they were making sure I was safely on my way… but I doubt it.  They had to have run my license plate several times, and thankfully had nothing to act on; I had not even received a parking ticket up to that time.  My guess was — and still is — that they were making sure I left town knowing that they were out there, watching.

All these years later, listening to stories from these callers describing being pulled over for their race, or the condition of their car, or for no real reason at all, brought my experience back to my mind.  And while I don’t claim to understand what it’s like to be profiled based on race, I understood — ever so slightly — what it must feel like to be tailed by police for no real reason.  And why, despite all the good that police officers do in the community, some people continue to fear and distrust them.

Now, before I go further, let me say one thing: I respect law enforcement.  I believe that police officers have a very tough job, are generally underappreciated, and do their best to enforce the laws fairly and with reason.  I still believe that when a police officer tells you to do something, you do it.  And I support the police, because they risk their lives to make sure you and I are safe.

But I can also understand, even a little, how it must feel when the police, who have power, and authority, and the means to do what they will, seem intent to find you doing something wrong.  Looking back, I was lucky — I was a dorky college kid who clearly posed no serious threat to anyone, especially an armed police officer.  But for a lot of minorities, particularly black kids who often don’t look like the cops and may not have the good fortune of driving a late-model car, it sure seems like the very people who are supposed to protect you are instead waiting for you to make a mistake.  Or, not even bothering to wait, pull you over for a suspicion of a mistake.

What’s it all mean?  I’m not sure.  But I have to say that, while I respect and value law enforcement officers, I can understand why some people fear them.  I still remember the nights where I’d have one — occasionally, even two — squad cars riding right behind me, changing lanes when I did, going through yellow lights behind me when I did, making sure I was leaving town.  A high-tension, quiet cat-and-mouse procession of fear and intimidation.  And even though I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I was still scared.

Perhaps its because, when it’s all said and done, the police have the power, the authority, and the means to do what they want.  And I don’t.  And I know that, while there are literally thousands of good, honest, hardworking cops out there every single minute of every day, there’s a few who aren’t.  Who enjoy the intimidation.  Who use their role, their presence, their visibility as a warning or veiled threat rather than a symbol of justice and safety.  And while I understand the need for police to function as a deterrent to crime, I find it hard to believe that a lone college kid driving the speed limit at night is much of a threat.

For the guilty, those types of police officers are scary.  But for the innocent, those types of police officers can be scary also.  I’ve always wondered why people run from police officers, sometimes with tragic results… but there’s a part of me that can understand why people run, why they’re afraid, why they distrust those in uniform.  I still don’t agree with it, but I can understand it.

And that’s why police departments must continue to reach out to the community, reach out to minorities, reach out to kids — to remind people that they truly are here to serve and protect.

Until next time… : |

Everyday Miracles


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

The Resurrection of Lazarus by Vincent van Gogh.

by Keith Yancy

Miracles. 

When most people think about miracles, they typically think of some of the big ones from the Bible.  The parting of the Red Sea.  A pillar of cloud in the desert, leading the Isrealites through the desert.  Christ walking on water, or raising Lazarus from the dead.  All examples of a God that acts directly to affect events.  And all of them happening nearly (or several, in the case of the Old Testament ones) thousands of years ago.

Back then, it seemed like God wasn’t bashful about making sure things went the way He wanted them to go.  In today’s terms, he took charge of the situation, dictated events, and enjoyed successful outcomes.  And there are many people today who wish that God would re-visit this “hands-on” approach. 

Tempting, isn’t it?  Someone bursting in to fix things, right wrongs, save the innocent?

Well, as everybody knows, the Almighty seems to work differently these days.  No burning bushes, no water turned to wine, no fiery chariots into heaven.  Nowadays, God seems to get credit (or blame) for natural disasters ranging from earthquakes to tsunamis to hurricanes.  Remember the natural disaster-themed television program Wrath of God?  

God’s present-day miracles, if you believe in them, seem to be of the second-hand variety, the kind that involve God working through others to affect events.  Much less direct, much less high-profile.  Prone to other explanations.  Not dramatic, perhaps, but meaningful for those who experience them.

I believe — completely — that God does perform miracles.  Every day.  And I also believe that the best part is this: he uses people like you and me to do it.

Perhaps he performed dramatic miracles long ago because His people needed such assurance.  Perhaps God “changed his style” after he gave us his greatest gift and teacher — his Son.  I don’t know.  And, in my humble opinion, neither does anyone else.  What I do know is what I see and experience, and I’m convinced.

Just like the ancient times, today’s miracles can be like the roar of the tempest, or like a whisper in the mind.  In other words, they can be obvious or subtle.  But miracles nonetheless.

Think there’s no obvious miracles?  Perhaps you’ve never seen people recover from supposedly terminal illnesses, defying the odds with the help of loved ones.  Perhaps you’ve never seen the children affected by programs like Make-a-Wish or Special Olympics, or the many, many people who work so hard — and give so much — to make these events so priceless for those involved.  Perhaps you’ve never seen the homeless shelters who take in so many of our poor, lost, and hungry.  Perhaps you haven’t seen so many other examples of organizations — from the Marine Corps around the world to churches across the country — who work so hard to bring happiness to those who have nothing.  

Perhaps you haven’t noticed that in these examples, and so many others just like them, those who give so much have no worldly reason for doing so.   There’s little or no monetary reward.  They’re usually not even helping people they know personally.  They do it simply to do good.  To help those who need it.  To show others that someone cares.  Creating “everyday miracles” in lives that need them.

And if you missed the obvious ones, you probably didn’t see the subtle ones either.  The kind act of a stranger that helps someone in need.  The perfect advice from one person to another that changes their thoughts, then their actions, and ultimately, their lives.  The abuser, the convict, the forgotten — the “lost cause” — who finally hears God’s whisper… and changes their lives for the better. 

I’m sure many people would be quick to tell me that I’m confusing good fortune for miracles, or human generosity for miracles, or even self-motivation for miracles.  And my guess is that I’d never be able to convince such people otherwise.  You see, I think of miracles as those acts — large or small, loud or quiet, known or secret — that bring hope to the hopeless, joy to the joyless, and most importantly, a glimpse of what God is really about to those who have never seen, felt or even heard about Him.   

Matthew Easton, a 19th century religious scholar, once wrote, “Where miracles are there certainly God is.”  And I see God’s hand at work when these “everyday miracles” occur… because my God is one who, instead of giving us signs of his power, works countless small miracles each and every day — and gives us signs of his presence.  Through everyday people like us.  Allowing people like you and even me to be an active part of his plan, rather than just recipients of his plan. 

I can’t speak for others, but that feels pretty damn good to me.  More importantly, it makes me want to be part of that plan.  The surprising thing about that is that sometimes, you’re a part of an “everyday miracle” and don’t even know it.  This has happened a couple of times to me, but one time in particular stands out — because it took me completely by surprise.

I had found out from someone I worked with — briefly — that something I said to her changed her life (her words).  She told me that, several years before, she had asked me for my opinion on what she should do about her problems, and recalled that my advice was to “think about who she was, and what she stood for.”  After telling this story, she thanked me, and told me it changed her life that day.  (I didn’t have the heart to tell her I not only couldn’t remember what the advice was for, I didn’t even remember giving it.)  Yet it still changed her life.

Coincidence?  Maybe to some.  But it meant more than that to me.  Someone once observed, “Your life may be the only Bible some people will ever read,” and I try to keep that in mind every single day.  I think anything that can magnify the good in others — and bring them closer to God as a result — is an everyday miracle.  Just one of the small, countless everyday miracles that remind of us all that is good and right about people… and give us a brief glimpse of the fact that we are, indeed, made in His image.

Until next time… : )