Nurses and Their Tradition of Sacrifice

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

***

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all hanging in there this week. I know we are in the middle of some stressful and uncertain times. I do welcome you, though, to season three of Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about nurses. 

I’m recording this during the shelter-at-home mandate in my city during this coronavirus pandemic. I want to use this podcast to thank some of the people who are selflessly working to help bring this crisis to an end and who are working to help ease the suffering of all who are ill at this time. I’m also going to talk about some of the famous nurses in United States history. 

First, let’s look at today’s nurses. During this pandemic, we realize how valuable nurses and doctors are to our society. They sacrifice so much for our well-being. They care for children getting vaccines during well-child check-ups; they care for children dying from cancer. They clean up after sick patients. They take temperature and other vitals at all hours even when we complain about the care. They reassure parents; they try to keep worried families updated. They do all of this while still taking care of themselves and their own families. So, we all owe a debt to all of the caregivers and service workers and doctors and nurses providing hope in this pandemic. I’m just going to highlight a few specific examples of today’s nurses giving back. I’m sure your community could add thousands of examples to this podcast. 

The first shout out I’m going to give is actually to a nursing student who understands what her fellow nurses are facing. As a senior nursing student at LSU Health New Orleans, Kristina Rigterink decided she needed to do something to help nurses on the front lines of the pandemic crisis. She and her mother realized that medical supplies were in short supply across the country. Hundreds of healthcare workers were testing positive for coronavirus because they couldn’t get the masks, gloves, and other items they needed to stay safe while treating others. 

The two women decided to make a difference. They started organizing ways to collect supplies and get them into the hands of people who needed them the most. They gathered unused face masks, disposable gloves and surgical gowns that protect medical workers from catching and spreading the disease. As the word has spread around social media, more people are donating the supplies needed to keep our nurses and other healthcare workers safe. This nursing student stepped up when needed. 

On March 22, New Jersey issued a call for help. They needed nurses to help care for the patients flooding in for help. The New Jersey State Nurses Association answered the call. Their CEO, Judy Schmidt said: “We will do our part to swiftly contain COVID-19 by caring for every patient — no matter the sacrifice.”

Within one day, they had recruited more than 470 additional nurses who had been retired for less than five years. Other states are taking similar measures…nurses who have retired are stepping back into work for the greater good of our citizens. 

Eileen McStay, a registered nurse at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, and many others like her are worried about protecting their families. McStay decided to send her kids to stay with their father during this crisis, and she doesn’t let friends come visit her because she could have possibly been exposed to the virus by patients. She works long shifts, then she goes home to an empty apartment with no one to care for her. It’s a choice that many nurses around the nation are making. 

But nurses have been making sacrifices throughout the history of our nation. Let’s look at some of the nurses who have made a difference in the past. Many of us read about the nurse Clara Barton when we were in school. Her life is certainly worthy to be discussed. Here, though, I want to talk about one of her relatives—her aunt, Martha Ballard. Ballard was born in 1734 and died in 1812. She was an American midwife that also worked as a nurse and herbal healer. She worked for 27 years as a caregiver in a pioneering community in Maine. 

During that time, Ballard delivered 816 babies and treated numerous ailing residents in a time when people often died due to lack of healthcare. What is fascinating about Ballard is that not only did she step up to serve, but she also kept detailed medical records on her patients. Many doctors at the time didn’t even do that. Through her diaries and writings, Ballard still gives us valuable information about the history of medical work in her day. For example, in an August 1787 entry, Ballard writes about traveling from house to house to care for children with scarlet fever, which is a form of a strep infection. While she was serving others, she recorded details about the herbal remedies she used. Thanks to her service, many people survived what could have killed them without care. Thanks to her writings, we have a glimpse at very early medical records from the beginnings of our nation.

Dorothea Dix didn’t start her working life as a nurse. She was first a teacher and an administrator for a private school in New England. During the Civil War, she saw a greater need, however. She volunteered for the Union Army and helped recruit other women to the nursing field. Dix eventually served as the Superintendent of Army Nurses for the Union Army. Dix became known for many things, but three things stand out to me: 

  1. She treated both Union and Confederate soldiers. Dix did not discriminate when it came to helping others. She saw the greater good and worked to help anyone in need. 
  2. She pushed for formal training and more opportunities for women nurses. She saw the valuable role nurses could play in the healthcare field and fought for the training they needed to succeed.
  3. Dix also fought for mental healthcare improvements. She devoted time to advocate for better treatment and care of patients suffering from mental illnesses. She eventually helped found a total of 32 institutions in the United States dedicated solely to the treatment of mental health illnesses.

Just a little aside here…did you know that First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and poet Walt Whitman also volunteered as nurses during the Civil War. They stepped up in a time of need. Now, I’m mentioning them here because they did much more than just volunteer. Mary Todd Lincoln actually realized the value of the trained professional nurses and pushed for the organization of an actual nursing corps. After visiting his brother who had been wounded, Whitman signed up to be a nurse at the battle zone in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and volunteered in this capacity for three years. Some of his most famous poems are about his time as a nurse. 

Next I want to talk about Mary Seacole. She nursed wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. She actually set up what was known as the “British Hotel” behind the lines during the war. She and Florence Nightingale were working during the same time period. Seacole, born in Jamaica, applied to the War Office to officially work as a nurse during the war. She was turned down, and she (along with historians studying her life) wonder how much of a role racism played since Seacole was a mixed race, born to a Scottish father and a Jamaican mother. 

Being turned down didn’t stop her at all. She used her own resources to open a facility to nurse wounded officers and servicemen. She was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991. In 2004 she was voted the greatest black Briton. Her autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857), is one of the earliest autobiographies of a mixed-race woman, and it details her work as a nurse and her challenges in working to overcome racism in this field.  

So, nurses have a long history of stepping up in times of need. They have worked tirelessly to ease suffering, help heal the sick, and mend the wounds of both soldiers and civilians. They have left a legacy of heroism and determination and self-sacrificing work. 

Our challenge for the week: thank a nurse. Mail a card. Send a text. Call in an order to a local restaurant and have food delivered to their home. Remember that there are people in the world that work without much recognition. If you are a nurse, I thank you for all of your work. I pray that you all stay well during this pandemic and that your families stay safe. Hang in there, nurses. Know that we appreciate all that you do! I’m doing my part and am following the requests for people to stay at home. My kids are taking their college classes from home, and I am working from home. 

Thank you for listening to this episode of Look To See Me. I hope you tune in again soon for another episode. Stay safe and stay well. 

Today…Together

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

***

Today…Together

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all hanging in there this week. I know we are in the middle of some stressful and uncertain times. I do welcome you, though, to season three of Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about people making one right choice at a time today. There’s a quote from Frozen 2 that says, “When one can see no future, all one can do is the next right thing.”

The next right thing. As I am keeping my social distance from everyone as we all face this pandemic together, I am staying informed by following a variety of news sites. There are so many governors and mayors and CEOs and school boards and nonprofit leaders that are having to decide each day what the next right thing is. A Colorado educator summed up our choices well when he discussed closing schools: “It is important for our community to remember that these measures were enacted out of an abundance of caution and to help prevent the spread of COVID-19,” West Grand Superintendent Darrin Peppard added. “We did not enter into this decision lightly. In the end, it will be impossible to know if we overreacted or did too much, but it will be quite apparent if we under reacted or did too little.”

We are left without a road map in these times and are having to learn from each other and from others around the world facing this challenge. We are looking to doctors and scientists and researchers to guide us. We are even turning to history to see what we can learn from past pandemics. I read an article about Philadelphia leaders choosing not to cancel a parade in 1918 when the Spanish flu was making its way through the country. Within 72 hours of the parade, every bed in Philadelphia’s 31 hospitals was filled and eventually 2,600 people died in the city from flu complications. This was much higher than the death rates in other cities who canceled large public events and put restrictions in place for gathering. 

So, I’m thankful that we have so many people trying to decide what the next right thing to do is. Another thing I am thankful for: I keep seeing social media posts that are so uplifting. In these hard times, people are trying to decide what the next right thing to do is. It’s so easy to only think of ourselves…think of what our immediate needs are. We make our lists and head out to stores before everything is gone. We plan ahead for what could be weeks of staying in. 

Don’t get me wrong. Self-care is important. We have to stay strong and healthy so we can help care for our families and for others who may need us. If we become weak because we haven’t eaten, then we certainly can’t help anyone else. But there’s something beautiful about only taking enough and not taking so much that you take away from someone else. 

And there’s something beautiful about the people who look up from their own lists…who look past their current worries and fears…who look into the eyes of others and see their needs and their worries. In this podcast, I’m going to talk about today…I’m going to talk about what each of us can do in the moment we are in to not only help others but to also bring joy to ourselves as we do it. I’m part of a Mama Bear group, and we always remind ourselves that we are better together. We are stronger when we work together and stand together and get through a crisis together. 

There are some organizations making wonderful choices to give people options for entertainment. 

  • The Metropolitan Opera will be streaming productions at no charge while they are closed.
  • Scholastic has set up a learn-from-home website.
  • Drive-in theaters are opening for people to watch movies from their cars with their families. 

In this podcast, I want to talk about some wonderful things that individuals and communities are doing to think outside of their own worries and work to help others. 

*According to the EdinburghLive Daily News, a convenience store in Edinburgh has been giving away “coronavirus packs” to the elderly for free. The packs contain a roll of toilet paper, handwash, a package of pocket tissues, and a packet of Acetaminophen. Local residents over the age of 65 could pick up a packet. Some staff members even delivered packages to those residents who couldn’t get to the store. Their kindness has been appreciated and is hopefully inspiring others to do the same.

*When an older couple in Oregon needed groceries, they decided that they would drive to the local Safeway and pick up a few items. When they arrived, however, they were worried about being exposed to coronavirus. They waited in their car for 45 minutes until they spotted a young woman, professional runner Rebecca Mehra. They cracked their window and asked her for assistance. The couple, in their 80s, explained that they had no family in town to assist, but they needed a few essentials. They handed Mehra a 100-dollar bill and asked her to shop for them. She agreed and came back to the car with their groceries and their change. When Mehra’s story went viral, she commented that helping was the right thing to do. 

*When the NBA suspended its season, Cleveland Cavaliers player Kevin Love donated $100,000 to help support the team arena’s hourly arena employees after NBA games were suspended. He knew that people losing work because of shutdowns would be vulnerable during this time. He inspires all of us to think of others who may be struggling financially. 

*Elementary students at St. Anthony’s in Columbus, Nebraska, made cards for people in quarantine in their area. The teachers and students understood that isolation is lonely and can increase anxiety and worries for some people. We all need to know that we are remembered. 

*When coronavirus concerns cancelled their daughter’s bat mitzvah party, the Shmidman family turned the food into meal deliveries for people in quarantine in their New York area.The food for the event was already prepared, so the Shmidman family told the caterers to package it up for delivery. Volunteers safely delivered it to those in need. We can all find ways to avoid contact, but still do what is right. They delivered about 150 boxes of food. 

*Local Jewish communities in New York sent care packages to Yeshiva University students in quarantine after a student tested positive for coronavirus. The packages contained snacks and challah and grape juice for use on the Sabbath for students stuck in the dorms.

*People around the world are making personal phone calls. Seems easy enough, but we often forget how comforting it can be to be remembered and to hear a voice. The calls don’t have to be long to be meaningful. Call an elderly person who may not have seen anyone in days. Call someone who is a caregiver and touch base. Read a book over the phone or Facetime to kids to give the parents a break for a few minutes. Small deeds can have a great effect. 

*Order groceries to be sent to someone who may be struggling financially or who may just need treats to brighten their day. Many local stores are delivering to homes for a small fee to cover their expenses. People are picking up on the idea of sending food to others to make a difference in their communities. It helps keep the stores open, and it keeps people out of large groups at the same time. 

*Know someone who lost paychecks? Call their local utility company and make a payment on their account. Pay their phone or light bill. Many local congregations are using this as an outreach tool as a way to keep serving others while social distancing. 

*Give away what you have stored as extra. Jennifer Le gave out face masks to people who had to be out in Singapore. A woman in a grocery store gave an elderly woman some of the toilet paper she just bought. 

There are many things we can do to get through this pandemic together. We can make our communities healthier and stronger by serving others as we also care for ourselves. We can do both well. Your challenge: find the next right thing for you to do. 

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

Stay-at-Home Activities For Adults and Kids

This post will be a little outside of the norm for me. However, I wanted to share some fun websites that we used when I homeschooled my kids. I will also add a couple of podcast links. I hope some of these will help us all stay positive while we are in our homes waiting for the pandemic to pass. Remember what I always say in my podcast: be a lifelong learner. Find some ways to learn something new, read something you may not have normally read, or explore a subject you don’t remember much about from school.

Websites for All Ages

  • The PBS Learning Media site has a lot of pages to explore. They offer something for a variety of ages.  Click here to explore their site.
  • I love the Smithsonian site. Click here to explore their pages. The Smithsonian Learning Lab is also a fun site to explore.
  • STEM Rising, created by the Department of Energy, has sections for students, teachers, and the general public. “STEM Rising is our initiative to inspire, educate, and spark an upwards trajectory to lifelong success in STEM through sharing the Department’s National Labs, National Nuclear Security Administration, and program office’s programs, resources, competitions, events, internship opportunities and more.” Click here to view their site.
  • The US Patent and Trademark Office also has a fun site that contains information for a variety of ages, including adults. Begin here to learn about what they have to offer.
  • Want to take your thoughts even higher? Explore Space.com and skywatch or catch up with NASA through some new videos.
  • National Geographics educational pages bring excitement into a classroom or home.
  • I also enjoy the Biokids website. This site, run by the University of Michigan, lets you explore many species and have fun at the same time.
  • Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) also has information and games to help us learn and have fun. This site is geared toward children, but it is fun to explore with them.
  • Indigenous Mexico is a website that shares the research of John P. Schmal. Schmal is a historian and genealogist who specializes in the genealogical research and Indigenous history of many of the Mexican states.
  • The Metropolitan Opera will be streaming productions at no charge while they are closed.
  • NASA offers several online image galleries.
  • Digital History is a fascinating site that contains primary sources on United States, Mexican American, and Native American history, and slavery; and essays on the history of ethnicity and immigration, film, private life, and science and technology. These are just a few of the options for you to explore.
  • Do History is a site that helps you piece together the past by looking at fragments that have survived. The site was created by the Film Study Center at Harvard University.
  • The San Diego Zoo has a really fun website to explore. It’s great for young kids and for older ones.
  • You can take a virtual tour of Yellowstone National Park.
  • You can also take a virtual tour of the Great Wall of China.
  • Chrome Music Lab is a website that makes learning music more accessible through fun, hands-on experiments.
  • Cleveland Inner City Ballet is launching a free Virtual Online Ballet Instruction Program.

Websites for Younger Children

  • Scholastic has set up a learn-from-home website.
  • PBS Kids has a variety of games and learning activities.
  • Starfall has a variety of activities for kindergarten through third grade.
  • Squiggle Park has a section for 3 to eight-year-olds and a section for ages nine to 15.
  • Prodigy motivates 1st to 8th grade students to learn and practice math.

Museums with Online Galleries

(not a complete list)

Fun Podcasts for Lifelong Learners

(And All Who Like a Good Story)

Look to See Me

Stuff You Missed in History Class

Wow in the World

Stuff You Should Know

Brains On

Storynory (Stories for kids, but fun for anyone)

Some Interesting Book Lists to Consider

Have fun, lifelong learners! Stay calm and stay positive.

Today’s Historians

If you are following my podcast on iTunes or SoundCloud (Look to See Me by Chris Pepple), you can find some of the transcripts of my episodes here.

***

Hi, Listeners! I hope you are all having a wonderful week this week. Welcome to season three of Look to See Me, a podcast that invites you to look closer at the lives of people around you and to take time to hear their stories. I’m Chris Pepple and today I’m going to talk about the role historians play in whose stories we are hearing and which people we are seeing.

I love to study history. It was always one of my favorite subjects in school. As I look back now, though, on the things about history I was taught in school, I see that my education was missing quite a bit of information. Now, I know it’s true that teachers only have a certain amount of time each year to teach each subject. There’s no way to cover any era in history with much depth at all. History teachers are wonderful, and they do a great job writing out lesson plans and bringing those lessons to life for their students.

There’s so much the rest of us can do outside of the classroom, though, to make sure that we are still being life-long learners and reading about our past…uncovering truths that may have been buried for generations. Gerda Lerner, the historian who pioneered the field of women’s history, had a valid point when she said, “In my courses, the teachers told me about a world in which ostensibly one-half the human race is doing everything significant and the other half doesn’t exist.”  It’s time to look to see the people from the past that still have something to teach us about the present.

I am thankful that we are in a time of reclaiming more stories from the past and correcting some of that stories that were based more on myth than on truth. I know that there are so many more stories I need to hear. This podcast talks about hearing the stories of those around us. The past two seasons have discussed leaders and organizations that are telling the stories of people whose voices aren’t always heard. We need community leaders and nonprofit groups to walk with people who are journeying on a path that others of us may not have walked along. We need to take a closer look at the work being done to bring hope and healing and love to all people in our communities.

Today I’m focusing on historians, however, because they are working to help us remember the people who walked these paths before we did. They are uncovering stories of people that have brought hope and healing and innovative ideas to our communities in the past and paved the way for us to do so today. Historians are reminding us that people can make a difference and bring about so much good in the world. These stories being brought to light by today’s historians help me better understand the stories of the people around me…the diverse people who make up my community—my local community and my global community. They weave all of us together through a foundation of hope and courage and perseverance that we may have never known we shared.

So, who are some of today’s historians that are teaching us so much through the stories they are unearthing and reviving for us? First, I want to talk about two of my favorite podcasters: Tracy V. Wilson and Holly Frey. Some of you may recognize these names; they are the cohosts of the popular podcast titled Stuff You Missed in History Class. This is a twice-weekly podcast that takes a look at historical figures with new perspectives. The co-hosts don’t just give us a quick glance at the life of a politician, inventor, writer, or other known personality. They dig much deeper to let us know what happened behind the scenes and often out of the public eye. They share old family letters and memoirs written by known friends. They dig deep into the works of other historians and researchers. They do a good job of telling us what information is probably just a gossipy rumor and what might be a fact. We get past the myths and find out what motivated people and what hurts they overcame to achieve their goals. We also find out who really should get credit for work that we attributed to another person. Their podcasts make history fun for me. They cover every topic from fashion design to medicine to shipwrecks. Listen and find out what you missed in history class.

I’ve also recently found a website that has been fun to explore. Indigenous Mexico is a website that shares the research of John P. Schmal. Schmal is a historian and genealogist who specializes in the genealogical research and Indigenous history of many of the Mexican states. He has written several books on the topic and has served on the board of the Society of Hispanic Historical Ancestral Research. Through Schmal’s research, we come to understand the stories that form the foundation for each Mexican state. When we understand the past, we can see the present with new eyes.

Why am I interested in all of this history? Well, can you imagine if a person who knew nothing about you or your past tried to understand your life and make decisions that affected you without knowing anything at all? A doctor needs your medical history to treat you. A counselor needs your history to help find a healing path for you if you are struggling with grief or stress. A psychologist or psychiatrist needs to know in-depth details about your life to properly diagnosis you. A spiritual mentor understands you better once you have talked about your past spiritual journey. Our past has helped shape us and has brought us to our present place on our journey. Our past doesn’t define us or limit our possibilities. We can all overcome quite a lot from our past once we acknowledge it and learn from it. That’s no different from a nation or a cultural group. Past challenges have altered the journey for some people. If we understand that, we can come to see the strengths that people have leaned on to face those challenges. We can see the courage and determination in people. We can see the gifts that all people bring to the table.

Here’s another historian’s name that I’m going to toss out: Clara Sue Kidwell. Kidwell is an academic scholar, historian, and Native American author who is of White Earth Chippewa and Choctaw descent. Kidwell has been instrumental in developing American Indian historical studies programs. She has taught at Haskell Indian Nations University, University of California at Berkeley, Dartmouth College, and University of Oklahoma. In 2007, she started the American Indian Center at the University of North Carolina. She is credited with increasing the visibility of Native American history on college campuses and across our nation. Historians like Kidwell fill in the gaps of our understanding and dispel myths that we often taught as truths.

I could toss out many other names in this podcast. Elizabeth Fenn researches the early American West, focusing on epidemic disease, Native American, and environmental history. Allan Berube, an American activist and historian, is best remembered for his groundbreaking work of gay history. He published an award-winning book in 1990 titled Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War II. Marie-Josèphe Bonnet is a French specialist in the history of women, history of art, and history of lesbians. Bonnet has written several books and articles about the theme of art, women artists, and the representation of women in art. Vincent Gordon Harding, who passed away in 2014, was a social activist, historian, and a scholar of various topics with a focus on American religion and society. He was one of the chroniclers of the civil rights movement and was perhaps best known for his work with and writings about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom Harding knew personally.

These historians, and many others who work in their field, know that we all still have so much to learn from the people who lived before us…people who dreamed and toiled and hoped and loved and fought. Historians bring the hopes and the visions of all who walked this earth before us back into the light so we can learn from their work and build on their dreams.

Your challenge for the week: learn about two people who are no longer living. Choose these two people from sources that you have never used before and choose from a group of people that are outside of your own identity. Be a life-long learner and expand who you have been learning about.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed this episode of my Look to See Me podcast and will return for the next episode.

Cultivating…respect instead of fear

Greetings! I guess we are all busy following the news about coronavirus. Students are having to change their foreign travel plans. Nations around the world are quarantining entire regions. Cruise ships are being stopped offshore so passengers can be tested. I still remember the H1N1 scare from 2009. We all wondered if we should send our kids to school.

I’m not a person who panics. I do follow the news and am heeding the advice of our Center for Disease Control and other medical professionals. I have always washed my hands well, so I don’t have to change any habits there. I do find it odd that people across the United States (and maybe elsewhere) are buying things like toilet paper and face masks and bottled water in bulk. Stores are selling out of many common items. People are giving in to fear rather than following the simple steps being advised by professionals.

Here’s what I do know: I hope I don’t get the flu, coronavirus, strep throat, or the stomach bug. None of us like being sick and very few of us have the luxury of being able to afford to be sick. Every year, I make an online post asking people to respect others and stay home when they are sick.

Here’s what else I know: Goodness and justice and love are never present when you make choices based only on your own fears and never also consider the fears of others.

Fear Quote

When we fear, we make decisions that we hope will protect us in some way. We walk faster or pull out our cell phones if we fear the sound of footsteps behind us at night when we are walking to our car. We buy hand sanitizer because we worry about coronavirus. We build a storm shelter when our area has been hit by tornadoes.

But do we consider the fear that others live with? When we don’t feel great, but we also don’t want to lose a paycheck, do we realize that some people with weakened immune systems could be killed by the viruses we are carrying? When we go into a restaurant knowing we are contagious, do we understand that some of the workers fear losing a home or a car if they get sick and lose a paycheck?

People carry legitimate fears for many reasons. If we respect others, we will find ways to understand their fears and help ease those worries. I am around the elderly quite often. I assure them that I will never visit if I am ill or still recovering. I will not compromise their health.

When I am around refugees in my community, I learn about the fears they lived with all of their lives…fear of abusive leaders, of persecution, of war, of hate, of losing their families because of poverty. I try to show that I am willing to learn about those fears and work to find ways to open doors for them to be safe.

When I am around any member of the LGBTQ+ community, I try to make it known that I am a safe ally. I will stand with them if they are being bullied or disrespected in any way. I will love.

And some forms of respect just involve paying attention to what I am being told. Right now, doctors are urging people to quit buying up the entire supply of face masks. They are useless to most of us, and there are people who legitimately need them. I have to consider their greater need over my current fear.

When we live life reacting only to our own fears, we can cause quite a bit of harm to others. We need to be life-long learners and find out how we can care for ourselves and respect the needs of others.

Do not fear. Do not let fear cause you to make decisions that will harm others. Do not let fear cause you to exclude others. Do not let fear cause you to judge others. Respect and love should be our guiding forces in challenging times (and, actually, in all times).

When Pencils Move: A Short Story for Mothers

I found an older short story of mine and thought I would share it here: 

While Pencils Move

               It’s that time of day again. It’s two o’clock in the afternoon. The laundry smells fresh from the scent of my fabric softener I used this morning. A warm spinach and feta cheese aroma lingers in the kitchen from our pizza we completely devoured. The cats have settled into their comfy spots for an afternoon siesta. My children are stretched out in the floor in front of me. One has an open math book. The other one has her history book opened to a section on World War II. She is reading and taking notes.

               These moments are times I cherish. I look over my computer screen and watch my children learning and growing. I remember when their legs didn’t stretch out this far. I also remember when their homework involved mostly coloring or cutting and gluing. Now they think intensely as the wrinkle their brows over historical facts and mathematical fractions.

               I close my eyes for a moment and listen to the sounds of their pencils moving across their papers. I wait for this sound every weekday afternoon. To me it is a sound of togetherness and stillness. The sound of pencils moving across paper ties me to the memories of their earliest days of learning. I picture myself writing a letter on lined paper and asking them to copy my work. With wiggly lines, they began the assignment. We clapped when they completed the task.

               Now they don’t need me as much. They start and complete most tasks on their own. I am more of an observer and a motivator these days. Occasionally my children get stuck on a problem and call my name. I can tell when that is about to happen. First, one of the pencils stops moving across the paper. I glance in that direction, careful not to jump in too quickly. I watch the eyes and brows to see if tension rises or clarity pops in. If tension rises, soon I will hear, “Mom, can you help me for a minute.”  I move over and look at the problem. We chat for a minute about the question at hand. Then I hear, “OK, I’ve got it now.” That’s my cue to move back to my seat so the pencil can move freely across the paper again.

These moments never last long enough for me. I want to sit next to them for hours as they conquer the challenges before them. But all too soon I must move from the scene to start dinner or pay bills or take a phone call from a client. The mail waits to be opened. The flowers need watering. I need to check in with a friend and a few relatives who need a call. Sometimes the moment ends when one child gets restless and can’t sit any longer. They usually don’t admit that. Instead they provoke the other child into an argument so they can claim to be the victim and get a break.

But when I hear the sound of pencils moving across paper, I feel a sense of peace and hope. I feel secure about their futures for a moment. I can set aside my worries that arise each time I hear a news report about another mass shooting or teen who died while texting and driving. I can stop worrying about how I will pay for their college tuition. I relax and soak up the moment as we all sit in one room with our minds exploring new thoughts or new approaches to the past.

I hope when I am older, they return home for a visit and sit next to me with pencils in hand. I will ask them to jot down to-do lists or items I need from the store. They may need to write dates of appointments on my calendar for me. They will think I am old-fashioned for not putting it all on a computer. They may also think that the tasks are mundane. But as they write, I know that I will close my eyes and pictures all of our moments together when they were younger and I heard pencils moving across the paper.        

©Chris Pepple 2013 (This story may be forwarded or reproduced with credit given to Chris Pepple as author. This story may not be sold or edited by any other person other than the original author.)