Mickey, “Mouse-Man”

 

 

Our oldest granddaughter named the beagle puppy Mickey because on his front right leg was a good resemblance of the well-known mouse. Each time my wife Mary Ann would visit our granddaughter and her family, he would climb the chain link fence and run to greet her. Rolling over on the front lawn, he would beg her for a belly rub. Before too many of these visits, she put him in her car and brought him home. The late afternoon call was simple, “I’ve got Mickey.” And we had him, and he had us, until this morning at 9:30 when the induced drug stopped his strong heart. He could not use his hind legs, he was in much pain and his inability to run and smell and bark left only that option.

Mickey shared life with us, our hound Nolan, his litter mate Callie, and six cats. Like the other animals,  he was only a pet, but anyone who  has ever shared days with a dog or cat knows that they are more than they seem. Mickey was all dog: If he could not eat it, bark at it, or pee on it, it had no purpose for him. He would sit on the kitchen floor when Mary Ann cooked, knowing that some morsel would fall for him to claim. If a stranger came into the house or yard, his hackles would rise as he barked in his best and deepest beagle voice—all the while backing up. And if neither of these actions worked, he would just mark it and go on his way.

He and the hound were buddies who shared the sofa at night as we watched television. They took most of it, but left Mary Ann enough room to sit at one end. Often, if he and Nolan were on their day bed together, he would give the hound’s ears a thorough cleaning, However, if food was involved, we had to be careful. More than once, Mickey would go after the larger hound, disregarding the size difference for the food.

As I type these words, his sister Callie sleeps on the library chair in which he liked to nap. The January sun warms the spot near the roses and bee balm where he liked to lie. Carolina chickadees, brown headed nuthatches, cardinals, and more birds flock to the filled feeders. The world goes on its business, and I guess that is as it should be. In fact, I know that is true.

But for Mary Ann and me, we pause for a bit this morning to honor the little male beagle who blessed our lives.

 

Binsey Poplars on Lake Norman

 

A year ago the purchasers of a building lot in our neighborhood began having it cleared: a massive 953 Caterpillar, various styled trucks, men with chainsaws, and other equipment for destruction invaded our street. Soon, trucks began leaving our neighborhood carrying pine logs to the sawmill or entire root balls of sixty-year-old long-leaf pines to the county landfill. Rumbling on their errand, each truck would return later the same day or the next morning for another load. Meanwhile the 953 continued to push over every pine tree and level the lot for the planned house. Soon, that work was completed, and the builder arrived to make his contribution to the now neutered lot of sunbaked, Iredell County red clay. But this postage stamp of red soil was valued because it had some Lake Norman shoreline and a dock, and, thus, life would be good as the owners have moved into their planned house, and a landscaper is busy planting a variety of plants on the lot where just a year ago majestic pine trees grew.

I have watched this process with interest because it is near our home. (I will accept that I am even nosey).  I appreciate the need to selectively clear land for a house, its septic system, and other items such as a drive. I know that if owners buy a lot, it is theirs to do as they desire. This tiny lot sold for over 400 thousand dollars, so if you follow the philosophy that if you buy it, you have certain rights, then that price carries many “rights”. So be it, but just because the owners can or could does not necessarily mean they should.

It appears, by their spending habits that I have witnessed, the owners have ample funds to do as they wish. But does a deep pocket give them or any of us the right to do as we wish? Once again, just because they could afford over $10,000 to clear the lot, should they have wiped it clean of all vegetation that was not in the no cut zone near the lake. But they did, and now are paying a company to re-forest the lot with shrubs and trees. And since the lot has been so razed, they are planting many trees such as magnolias and evergreens in order to give the lot some landscaped appearance. But, as all too often happens, the small trees are being planted too close together, oblivious to the fact that , in a few years, they will have grown larger, becoming a hinderance to each other’s growth. Money spent with no or little thought of what will be in a few years has created a future of unattractiveness.

These owners are like so many folks in our culture: What I want, I want now and can pay for it. So, they level a lot, build a house, and in order to give the lot a look of maturity, they overplant in the thought of giving their new home a “settled look.” But had the owners thought more, they may have seen that they need not have removed every stately pine tree but selectively removed the ones that were in the path of their house. I offer that a few sixty-year old pine trees add natural beauty and monetary value to any house. It is, in my view, unfortunate that the owners did not consider other ways to achieve their end than a modern slash and burn approach.

So, a year later the owners have a new house with an overly landscaped lot that will in a few years require removal of trees and shrubs planted too close to the house or too close together. Once again, the lot will be razed to satisfy a man and woman’s ego or convenience or both. But they are not alone in a world community that ignores its responsibilities while flaunting its privilege.  Gerard Manley Hopkins warned us of this in his poem Binsey Poplars, and the poem’s lesson is evident here on Lake Norman.

 

Word Abuse

 

Words matter. What we say, as Orwell writes, reveals our thinking, which tells what and who we are.

Our culture is being eroded by a wash of flotsam carried ashore by the internet and social media. Words, those necessary tools for everyday communication, have become weapons instead of bridges. They have become agents to abuse the disenfranchised, shock everyone, frighten many, and bring glory to one.

As an educator, I did not tolerate inappropriate language from students or athletes. If I heard inappropriate language being used, I reacted strongly. For instance, in a wrestling practice, if a wrestler used such a word (s), the entire team had to do push-ups or run sprints. Why? Because there were national rules against such action and if the wrestler committed such an act during a match, he would be penalized, and so possibly his team. The same in the classroom, where students were required to use language that reflected scholarship, not sloppiness. If, for instance, we were discussing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, we never repeated certain words that were in the book. Why? Because just because a word was used in a book or poem or play was no excuse for us, students discussing the literature, to repeat the word in our class. The author used the word for a reason, but no reason existed for us using it in our examination. While retired, I know current teachers and coaches who have the same expectations for their charges. Appropriate language, I am glad to know, is still required of middle and high school children by the educators I know.

However, those same educators and children are, as I  wrote above, being assaulted by media. “Frigging” is now, it seems, an accepted substitute for that Anglo-Saxon word meaning sex. It is even used in a commercial for peanut butter. And anyone who wants can create an emoji displaying an array of inappropriate signs and printed language. That emoji is then sent out to any other like-minded person who regales such sadness.

Now, I am not a prude, but I am  all for appropriate language. There are places and times for language that communicates a thought or feeling. If I hit my thumb with a hammer in my woodshop, I likely will not say, “Golly, that hurt,” but something else a bit heavier. In the privacy of my shop, I would feel better for saying something with a bit more punch because I have in my vocabulary appropriate words to use in expressing my pain and anger on hitting my thumb. I know them and can use them, but not in a classroom, Sunday School room, with certain friends, or in s settings such as a restaurant. To do so would be inappropriate.  The where of  a word’s use is as important as its how.

However, such thinking is, as I wrote before,  under assault by many forces. The wonder of the internet has, for instance, made too much information or misinformation available to almost anyone. The battle against inappropriate language is made even more difficult when adults in the news, such as President Trump, use inappropriate language.

This week as he hosted the LSU football team in the White House, President Trump said: “Anyone who wants a photograph with me in the Oval Office later can have one. There is no place like the Oval. Many Presidents have sat behind the desk …, some good or not so good. But you’ve got a good one now, even though they’re trying to impeach the son-of-a-bitch.”

Now, don’t jump to the vile use of Trump’s in the White House. Examine his description of that seat of United States influence—the Oval Office. Think of all the important events that have taken place in that space—the signings of Presidential documents, discussions known and unknown, and so many other facts of American political life. Yet, the current President of the United States refers to this space as “the oval.” How small of him. And he then goes on in his ego driven hosting of the LSU team to use the third person language that he did. However, as far as I know, he has not been corrected for such language.

Luke 6:45 tells us that, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil; for of the abundance of the heart his  mouth speaketh.”

The good physician and Orwell tell us what we know to be true, yet we continue to allow this President to publicly share his evil through such language. Our passive action will cost us.

Policy and its Procedure

           Non-public schools reserve the right to expel a student for a rule infraction, be it one of a discipline or honor violation, or both. Also, poor academic performance may lead to a student being expelled. It is hoped that all such schools print a clear and simple set of expectations and possible consequences for their breaking in some forms for students and parents to follow. As difficult as it is for a student and school, sometimes the best action is for a student to be expelled. But, in my opinion and experience as an independent educator, expulsion should be the last recourse.

Earlier today when I read the following in an ABC on-line article, I was disappointed: “A Christian school in Kentucky is accused of expelling a freshman student after seeing an image of her celebrating her 15th birthday with a rainbow cake and multi-colored sweater. Kimberly Alford said officials at Whitefield Academy in Louisville sent her an email last week with the image of her daughter, Kayla, and informed her that Kayla was no longer a student.”

Whitefield Academy, like all non-public schools, maintains its right to expel a student as mentioned earlier. Fine. Yet what I cannot understand, if the mother is correct, why did the head of school notify the student and parent via an email? I understand that the photograph of a student can cause alarm for a school when the school sees the picture as going against one or more of its core beliefs. Alford says that the head of school told her when she called that the cake and sweater represented gay pride, not a core belief of Whitefield.

On its web page, Whitfield lists its Core Values. Two of them are: Compassion and respect for all people. Whitefield Academy believes each individual is uniquely created by God and endowed with specific gifts and abilities. These gifts and abilities, encourage mutual respect, promote Christian love and provide motivation to resolve conflict in a peaceable and Biblical manner (Matthew 18:15-35). Commitment to family values. Whitefield Academy exists to serve Christian families in the process of education. As such, the school is supportive of family issues and concerns. We exist to strengthen the family through a balanced educational program that considers the academic and relational needs of the family (Psalm 127).

As a Christ follower, I am aware of the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality. I am also a reader of the Gospels, and as I understand them, especially Luke, I appreciate the two Core Values of Whitfield that I quoted. But, how can the head of school believe in them, if a student is expelled via an email. What kind of compassion/respect and commitment to family values does that demonstrate? Shame on that type of Christianity.

The question is not the policy of Whitfield, but the procedure it followed in expelling its student. I hope it will look at its Core Values and follow them the next time a student breaks a rule.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resolutions

 

At this time of the year, I cringe a great deal. I cringe at the Christmas cards consisting of too many family photographs. I cringe again because few of these carry any personal note or signature, just the implied message: “Look at how great and happy we are.” After that cringing, I suffer through the overflow of articles and newscasts looking back at the past year (name all who have died the past year) and the insufferable resolutions and advice for the coming new year ranging from a new diet to books that will change everything to ways of gaining a happier life. But while glancing at the New Year’s Day Charlotte Observer’s coverage of another local, random shooting in which an innocent, thirteen-year-old was murdered,  I saw a quarter-page advertisement for a jewelry store. I cringed. Not at the ad, but at the irony of its location. I also took a cell-phone photo of it and sent it to many contacts in my cell phone.

The ad begins “resolve This Year” and then it lists 29, by my count, suggestions for all of us to do in 2020. And I think the list impressive, not necessarily because of the type of suggestions it makes, but by its language in making them. Strong verbs are used to state the imperatives we need to follow. An example such as  “Deserve confidence” places all the responsibility on the person desiring the confidence of another person . Those two words tell us, in order to have the confidence of others, we must act and do in such a way that another person will be confident about us. That is, we will be trusted because we have demonstrated trust.

Another suggestion that resonates is “Forgo a grudge.” I so admire the use of that somewhat archaic word “forgo.” As any poet knows, the perfect word is, well, just right.  I offer that to “forgo” is the perfect command for any of us living with a grudge.  Find “forgo” in your dictionary or cell phone. Learn it, and see for yourself why it is the perfect way to deal with a heavy emotion.

Now, we are all busy in our world of convenience. Ask someone to support a good cause with a check and it likely will be given. Ask for an afternoon of labor for the same cause, and you likely will be given excuses of “I don’t have the time,” or “I’m  too busy.” Our time, even with all of it that we have, is guarded. Yet, here is the suggestion, “Find the time.” No explanations of what to find the time for, just find it. Oh, the needs are only limited by my excuses. But “Find the time” for a child, your house of worship, the local library, a soup kitchen, the local center for seniors, or so many other needs. Don’t wait for the time to appear, go out and find it. Once again, the ad gives a command. No wishing or moaning, but active verbs that will give results.

“ Go to church.” Now, there it is said. Do not attend or visit or some other lesser verb. Go! Your mother may have said that to you long ago. That is strong advice but needed always and especially in our culture. You may easily substitute another word such as temple or mosque or synagogue for church. But, Go. You will feel better, and your world will be better.

In the current climate, passive verbs relieve the speaker or writer of responsibility. As a teacher for forty years, I heard too many times a whine such as, “She (a teacher) doesn’t like me”, or “That coach likes only certain athletes”, or more and more. Parents, too, spoke in the passive voice to remove any responsibility from their child or even themselves. But this ad uses the active voice and that places all the responsibility on the one doing. Examine the suggestion, “Flount envy.” Once again, the perfect verb, but not one that I would want my students to commit regarding rules. But envy? Exactly. Grow up and be responsible for yourself.

I wrote earlier that the placement of the ad is ironic. It is because the page it is on has an article about the murder of an innocent thirteen-year-old girl. She was killed by a stray bullet fired by an eighteen-year-old who was angry with someone he had argued with, and he did  not heed the first suggestion: “To mend a quarrel.” Instead of mending, he used a gun to rip at something trivial. Lives torn, including his.

It is an ad unlike any I have ever read. But it is one I will read each day and follow its words. Strong words to help a weak world.

Bigger/Better?

 

 

The Saturday before Christmas Day, I drove to a large, Charlotte public high school to catch the second day of its wrestling tournament. When I drove into the parking lot, I realized that I was due a new experience: vehicles parked in the standard spaces, on sidewalks, grassy areas, and next to painted curbs, but I finally found a legal handicapped space next to the baseball and football fields. But the parking lot was little compared to the gymnasium I entered.

One side of the seats was closed, and the opened side crammed “cheek to cheek” with parents, coaches, friends, and wrestlers. What floor space not used by the four mats was taken by scoring tables, chairs, and more sitting people. Later I would be told that two other mats were being used in  an auxiliary gym. When I arrived, there was a brief lull in mat action, then girls began wrestling. At first I thought I may be watching the wrestle-backs, but no, I was told by a mother that these were wrestlers in the girls’ division. I watched the action on mat 4 because I have learned that, from watching the NCAA D-1tournament, one cannot “see it all.” So, pick a mat and watch the action on it. I did this and then some boys began to compete, but not in the usual weight class order. I asked and was told that these matches were some of the junior varsity wrestle back matches. Oh, I thought. Now, I was growing impatient because I had come to see my favorite varsity team, Mooresville, compete. Finally, some of the varsity Blue Devils competed, and I enjoyed those matches before leaving at 4 in order to return home. After all, six hours at Mat 4 was enough.

High school wrestling has changed so much since I competed in 1961-’64. For instance, my two-year varsity record (high school then was 10-12 grades) was 33-1. I lost my second varsity match as a junior but remained undefeated after that. Today, a 9th grader who attends the same church I do and wrestles varsity for Mooresville, has already wrestled more matches than that by Christmas. In 1973, to continue with one more example of the changes, the Christmas break was a long time without wrestling for high school wrestlers in the D.C. area. So, I began the Bishop Ireton Holiday tournament which had eight teams and covered two days. My! Yet, that is the way we had to do it then. What would I do today as a coach .or wrestler? I don’t know, but I have doubts that what we are doing today in wrestling and so many other sports is the best.

Across our culture we have come to believe that more is better. The standing philosophy is that, if it is big, it is good. Beginning tomorrow in Charlotte is the 11th  annual Holy Angles Tournament, which uses ten mats over two days to manage a junior varsity, girls’ and varsity divisions for wrestlers.  It is billed as an invitational tournament, but any school willing to pay the scaled entry fee is allowed to attend. When I last checked, over 100 schools were listed as attending.

More is not better. Sure, it helps any athlete to be exposed to different skills and abilities but attending tournaments such as the two mentioned will not, I think, improve the over-all quality of  wrestling. However, an experience against quality competition which sharpens skills will make any athlete better. In fact, I think such tournaments are determents because they, by their size, have needless down time for wrestlers and fans. It is a long day spent waiting in a gym or arena for some outstanding matches to watch or compete in.

For me, this bigger is not better. In fact, this bigger may, in the long run, be damaging.

Hardly a Wise Investment

 

“If every sports team in Chicago were to suddenly disappear, the impact on the Chicago economy would be a fraction of 1 percent, A baseball team has about the same impact on a community as a midsize department store.” (Michael Leeds, Temple University Sports Economist)

The elected leaders of Charlotte, NC should have listened to Dr. Leeds, but instead they were overcome by David Tepper, the owner of the Charlotte Panthers, who has a net worth of 12 billion dollars. He convinced Mayor Vi Lyles and the city council to spend tax dollars to help him be awarded the 30th Major League Soccer team franchise.  Mayor Lyles and the Charlotte City Council agreed to help Tepper by promising to give  $110 million for a soccer team.  (Tepper is also being given tax dollars to help build a new practice facility for the Panthers in near-by Rock Hill, SC. Senator Lindsay Graham has promised about 20 million of federal funds to build the entrance and exit ramps of I-77 to the new complex.)

The  Charlotte Observer in the editions of December 17 and 18 has printed much news of Mayor Lyles, Tepper, and soccer balls. Tepper is quoted as saying, “It’s going to be a new Charlotte. We’re the hot city.” Scott Fowler, Observer sportswriter, quotes Tepper as describing future soccer games at Bank of America Stadium as, “This is a little bit of a party for two hours. Charlotte loves a party. And we’re going to bring them [sic] a party.”

Once again a city is sucked into believing that a sports’ team will have great economic benefit. Yet, as Dr. Leeds knows, one of the few facts that economists agree on is that professional teams do not have much of an influence on local economies. Yet, men who are wealthy enough to buy a professional team continue to be given tax dollars to help their cause. And, Tepper’s cause, whatever it is, is aided by elected officials and the local media.

Like other cities of America, Charlotte faces problems: a high murder rate in 2019, a lack of affordable housing, poor mass transportation, issues surrounding educational equality, and more. So why would the civic leaders give a rich man so much money when it could help with  the social issues facing the city?

It is wrongly believed that success of a ball team affects a city. While some 70 thousand or so fans may enjoy a game, that is a small percentage of a city’s population. Any fan base is of the franchised citizens of a community, but where is the larger number of the disenfranchised who suffer most from the problems of a city? The child who is taken on a Christmas shopping spree  at a large box store by a professional athlete does not attend professional games, and his or her parents are too busy making ends meet to be concerned about a box score. Professional teams are designed for the franchised citizens of all cities, but the disenfranchised, if they want, are encouraged to come to the stadiums to work low-scale jobs so that the enfranchised will be comfortable and well-fed. For instance, the Observer reports that “more than 60 fans attended the announcement of Charlotte’s new Major League Soccer franchise.” That is a small percentage of Charlotte citizens.

Building things is popular and easy to support. Stadiums. Courts. High rises. But the value of things built is a poor investment when compared to creating a system that offers a sound education to all its citizens, a safe environment in which to live and work, and equal access for all of its citizens. By her action and that of the city council, Mayor Lyles has demonstrated that she and the council are more interested in things than the city’s disenfranchised citiz