Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘high school’

Fiddler On the Roof

Harbor High School’s Fiddler On the Roof is one of the best high school productions I’ve seen in years. The casting and direction are top notch. The acting, singing and dancing superb. And the costumes, sets and musicians provide the perfect accompaniment and atmosphere.

We watched the film version of Fiddler the day before it opened at Harbor and were quite impressed with how close to the movie the students presented. The dance numbers were quite amazing and each actor seemed perfectly matched and suited for their part. The roles could have been custom made for David Warner, who plays Tevye and Jade Gregg, who is Golde.

A lot of the issues in the play are also very relevant for these times. Many people around the world are still persecuted because of their beliefs, religion and/or culture and more than half of the world’s marriages are arranged.

Fiddler On the Roof plays for 2 more weekends (Friday & Saturdays at 7:30) at Harbor High School. If you get a chance, go see it. You will be hard pressed to find a better production anywhere.

Where have all our children gone?

Where have all our children gone?

The oldest daughter moved out. The next to oldest daughter left soon after. Then, our first-born son went his way and his older brother followed suit. There is one remaining. One 17-year-old boy graduating in just under 4 months, ready to burst out onto the college scene and take flight. He may move this year after high school graduation or next, but either way, it is not long until we are going to be empty-nesters or are we?

Our daughter, who lives just 1/2 mile away, is about to have her first baby (and we will definitely be hanging out with her daughter as much as possible). Her childhood friend (who we have known for almost 2 decades) just had a little boy a week ago and we’ve gladly offered to babysit. Our daughter who lives in Seattle has a son who is almost 2. I’ll be going to see them in a few weeks. Then, there are our friends who are in the process of adopting a brother and sister (5 & 7), who they have foster cared for over a year now, whom I also love to support and spend time with. And two of our 3 sons also plan to have children some day.

When it comes down to it, we haven’t “lost” anybody, but only gained more wonderful beings to the family and increased the amount of love and care to go around. Completing the circle, are all the wonderful children at the ROP Center for Street Children in Rwanda and those there caring for them.

I’ve known I wanted to parent children since I was sixteen. It looks like my wish has come true 10 fold and will always be a part of my life until my last breath as a human. Sure, I enjoy my wife and my time alone and being able to spend time together and do things we couldn’t always do when children were living with us 24X7, but it is also an awesome and wonderful responsibility to support, perhaps guide and nurture other precious beings and make a difference in their lives and hopefully, their hearts.

As someone once said, “Parenting can be both agony and ecstasy and is the hardest job you’ll ever love.”

Birthday in Rwanda

Volunteering for three weeks with a medical team and trauma specialists to provide care to children orphaned by the 1994 genocide and AIDS in Rwanda, is not a young man’s usual birthday wish on their fourteenth birthday, yet that is what Shona Blumeneau, a teenager from Santa Cruz, California experienced at ROP Center for Street Children. “It was really cool and different,” he says with a warm grin. “The people are very kind.”

Some estimates put the number of orphans in Rwanda at over a million. There have been vast improvements since the nineties, but thousands of kids are still living on the streets and many of the orphanages and youth centers that have taken in survivors (also referred to as “street rebels”) are struggling to provide basic needs, let alone education and vocational training for the children in their care.

Shona and his family held yard sales, received donations from relatives and friends across the country and had a local musician put on a piano concert to raise funds for their journey. “I worked as a referee and as a coach at a summer soccer camp,” Shona recalls. He saved half of any money he got for his birthday or holidays and put it away for his airfare to Rwanda. He says could have stayed home with friends, “but I really wanted to see Africa and make a difference.”

When he arrived in Africa and started working at ROP Center for Street Children in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, Shona found that “half the time the kids accepted me and tried to bring me into their culture and the rest of the time they wanted me to get them things or bring them home to The States.” He said they all assumed he was rich because he was from America and comparatively speaking, he is. The average daily wage in Rwanda is about one US dollar per day. “It would be hard to grow up in an orphanage and not have a family to support you,” he reflects. Every morning they returned the boys and girls would approach, grab his hands and ask if he remembered their name. They wanted to be seen, heard and reassured that they would not be forgotten. “It was awkward when I said ‘No’,” says Shona, “but I couldn’t remember everyone’s name.”

The team Shona traveled with came from throughout the U.S. and included two nurses, a psychologist, family therapist, nurse practitioner, dentist, minister, two teachers, journalist, photographer and a quilting instructor. They worked with six translators, from early morning until evening, with hundreds of children at ROP for almost three weeks. Shona assisted the nurse practitioner and dentist to give these children the first check-up they’d ever had in their lives. “At first I took pictures and then I started taking their height and weight and testing their eyes with a wall chart,” Shona proclaims. “Whitney (the nurse practitioner) taught me how to look in ears and what to look for and Jim (the dentist) showed me how to record information about teeth and gums.”

Most of the children at ROP are in their teens and adopted the young American as their brother or “inshuti” (friend in Kinyarwanda). “Everyone has a story,” says Shona, “about how their life has been since the genocide. There was one kid whose parents and siblings were killed, except for a baby sister. They were stuck on the street, taking care of the sister and eating rotten food until the director of the orphanage found them and brought them to ROP.”

His time at the orphanage was not all work and no play. “Sometimes I was just chilling with them talking, trying to communicate and understand each other. A lot of them are learning English and I picked up a few words of Kinyarwanda.” Shona’s family also brought four suitcases of donated soccer uniforms they had been collecting from parents and kids back home and provided enough outfits and balls for four teams. Shona, who has played soccer since he was four years old, would make foray’s to play with his adopted brothers and sisters on the mud and rock strewn field behind the orphanage and come back after twenty minutes dripping with sweat. “Those guys are really good!” he’d exclaim, trying to catch his breath, as he collapsed on one of the thin wooden benches used by students during class.

The words “life-changing” are often thrown around loosely in our society. To Shona Blumeneau, the words are real. “This trip has changed my life,” he says. “I don’t think I’ll ever whine about anything again.” His perspective on the privilege he enjoys in America was matched by his new found appreciation and understanding of Rwanda. “Even though there is poverty, it isn’t as bad as people describe it. Most of Africa is poor, but there is also a lot of development and hope. The kids really want to learn everything they can. I have a lot of respect for them.”

When asked if he would like to return to Rwanda, Shona, who is now a high school senior, said quickly, “Absolutely! I learned that even though I’m in another country, I still like working with kids and I can do that anywhere, even if I don’t speak their language. I think I would like to work in the medical field and I love traveling.”

You can bet your last dollar that this determined young teen from the United States will indeed make his way back to Africa, where the orphaned children of The ROP Center for Street Children will hold his hand, look him in the eye and ask, “Do you remember me?”

My Dream Girl

Cindy was a mature woman of sixteen. I was an immature man of eighteen. We met in the afternoon at a teen drop-in center, gazed hopelessly into one anothers eyes, like puppy dogs and within hours were talking about hooking up. That night we slept together for the first time and I was in heaven. I’d had several previous relationships, but none had ever been this intense or instantaneous.

Within a week Cindy had her mother’s permission to live with me and my grandmother said we could rent her trailer. Everything was set. Life was good. Cindy taught me the joy of sexual freedom and living in the moment and I obediently followed her every wish and whim to “make her happy”. I was so enmeshed in the sensations of the relationship that I failed to recognize my co-dependent and needy behavior. In my mind sex and love were one and the same.

I continued working at a counseling center and Cindy finished up her last year of high school. I studied Eastern religions on the side and she enjoyed drawing and working part-time at a florist shop. The only “minor” issue was that I couldn’t “make her happy” or give her the answers she was seeking. We were two young teenagers growing up together who had no idea what we were doing, what we wanted or where we were going.

After two tumultuous years we figured the answer to our dilemma was to get married. Why not? Wasn’t that what you were supposed to do? And even though it didn’t mean much to us at the time, we figured the worst that could happen is that we’d receive a lot of cool presents! Getting married was “just a piece of paper” we reasoned. Both of our parents had divorced and we knew we’d “always be together” regardless of any societal contract we may sign.

The wedding turned out as planned. All of our friends and relatives showed up at the reception, we got plastered and received a lot of money and presents. But after the money was spent and the wedding hangover wore off, the realities of what we had done creeped into our daily lives. We didn’t know what being married meant. I thought it implied getting a “steady job” and having children. So, I obtained a nine to fiver at the local phone company and we talked about having kids and buying a house. Lukily, neither the house nor the kids worked out because a year later it was splits-ville, as in divorce, finale, kaput, the end.

Screaming was the only thing that finally got my attention. Slamming the door shut behind her, Cindy entered the living room late one evening and yelled at the top of her lungs, “I can’t live with you anymore. I want a divorce!”

“Why,” I pleaded. “What do you want me to do?”

“Nothing,” she said. “Why don’t you stand up for yourself? Will you be real with me just once?”

“OK,” I replied, “What do you want me to say?”

“You don’t understand do you?” she replied. I sat silently with my head in my hands. After a deathly silence she quietly said, “I just need some space to be by myself. I moved in with you right from home. I’ve never been on my own.”

“So it’s nothing I’ve done or said?” I asked, my lip quivering.

“No, its not you,” she said.

In fact, it had a lot to do with me. She moved out a few days later and in a month was living with another guy.

Her decision to leave was not entirely out of the blue. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, she had been trying to separate for months. Other than running away, she had given me every clue possible, but I was blind. Her anger and judgments were an attempt to alienate me. She had thrown every name in the book my direction, at one time or another, assuming I’d leave. But like a faithful lap dog I had kept coming back for more.

At one point she insisted I sleep with her friend Lewellen and that we have an “open relationship”. I tried to do as she wished and acted like it was all cool, but it wasn’t. It turns out that the reason she had wanted me to be with other women was because she had already been having affairs with some of my best friends and I assume would have felt less guilty about her own behavior if I’d done the same.

When she left my bubble burst. I thought it was the end of the world. My dependence on her “being happy” as an indicator of my well-being had been total and complete. In the process of making her “OK”, I’d forgotten about myself; my wishes, desires, joys, ambitions and dreams. I had no sense of who “I” was or what made me happy.

Time didn’t heal anything, but it did give me some perspective. Clearly, I had sacrificed what little sense of my self I had ever had for Cindy. As long as I left all decisions to her it would be “her fault” whenever something didn’t work out. I was absolved from all wrong doing. I could blame her for everything. I could wallow in my self-pity and externalize all my troubles. “She did it, not me. She lied to me. She left me. She hurt me.”

I slowly recognized that I had made decisions by not deciding. I had lied to myself. I was equally responsible for our breakup. She tried to force me to be honest and state my needs, but I had cowered from the task. Shock tactics and reasoning never worked. Getting a divorce was what it finally took for me to wake up. It was the brick wall I needed to run into. If Cindy had not had the courage to leave I may have been lingering in a false identity for eons.

Like a snake that sheds it’s skin but still longs for its security, I kept aching for Cindys return. Even though I learned many things about myself since the divorce, images of us getting back together still lingered with sweet agony. Intellectually, I understood such images were fantasy, but my dependence on her for my well-being had been so complete that it took constant reality bites to loosen my grasp and let go of her as my emotional crutch.

Attachment is a strange thing; it can cause bliss and joy or pain and sorrow and you can’t have one without the other. When I grasped for love with Cindy I actually pushed it away with my wanting and neediness. She lost respect for me. The thing I wanted most didn’t want me. There was no substance or core to who I was. I decided to never put all my cookies in one jar. Until I knew who I was and what I wanted, I would not become involved with another woman. I silently swore that I’d never become so dependent on another for my happiness and well-being.

Such self-promises proved to be fruitless. Three more women entered my front door over the next three years and sooner or later left out the back porch. Each time I “knew” it was different than before. But sure enough, as each relationship ended and I had some perspective, it become clear that I couldn’t hide a wolf in sheep’s clothing. No matter how much I wanted to think I had changed, my basic behavior in response to each situation had been the same. They decided when to do what and when the relationship was over; not I. It wasn’t until a conflicted eight-year marriage ended, that I took responsibility and made a painful choice to leave.

After many years I believe I’ve finally figured out how to love and be loved, but I know that isn’t the most original idea that’s ever been planted in my head. I’ve been known to tell myself the most wonderful stories; and they always have happy endings. Every woman I met was the girl of my dreams. It wasn’t until I became more of who it was I was looking for, that I woke up and found the partner I’d been seeking in all my fantasies.

Keeping Joe Alive

(Excerpt from Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something! Grief’s Wake Up Call)

Alexandra’s only child, Joseph Matteucci (age 17) was killed at a youth baseball game on May 15, 1993. During a melee between teams, in which Joseph was trying to extricate his friend, he was struck in the back of the head with a baseball bat, which had been swung in a fit of anger towards another boy who ducked. Two days later Joseph died of his injuries. It was the first game related death in little league history.

As a result of her son’s death Alexandra Matteucci created a national organization, The Joseph Matteucci Foundation for Youth Non-Violence, which envisions the “youth of America discovering the power of standing for peace, respect for life, and passion for living.” Their endeavors include a mediation training program taught to and for high school and middle school children; a sports emblem program designed to educate parents, coaches and players of the importance of good sportsmanship; and a scholarship program which supports educational opportunities to students who demonstrate an ongoing commitment to peace activities on campus. In addition to starting the foundation, Joe’s vital organs were donated to a 44-year-old construction worker, a 38-year-old lawyer, a 13-year-old girl and a 57-year-old man.

Alexandra Matteucci: “Joseph continues to live with me. He is very much a part of this foundation. He has been an inspiration to me all my life, showing me unconditional love. He was very wise for his age. I shared all my problems with him. We were very connected. I was a single parent since he was a year old. I even felt a spiritual connection to him before he was born . . . in the womb.

Joseph’s death was a symptom of how our society deals with violence and aggression that can lead to violence. Our anti-violence program is really about bringing the young people, the coaches and the parents together prior to a season in a single event that’s mandatory. I talk about what happened to my son, how and why it happened and ask everyone to stand and take a pledge. The pledge is, “Play to win. Play safely. Win or lose fairly. And be cool.” Then they sign the pledge and put our emblem on their uniform. Some of the teams incorporate the pledge in their opening day ceremony and their fund raising events.

One of the things I think that makes an impact on these young people is that I talk about Joe. I show pictures of him. They realize who he was and they come away very touched. When I go and talk about him in the schools, I tell them there’s a part of Joe living in each and every one of them and that every child and every parent is important.

Our program now teaches conflict resolution in the schools right along with our safety program. I read this article in the paper about an incident where two neighbors got angry at one another over parking and one of them went over and killed the other with a bat. He had very similar injuries to what Joe had received. I remember saying to myself, “Here’s another example that it’s not about baseball, it’s about anger.”

The impact of having someone taken from you, especially a young person, is so overwhelming that fortunately your body and your mind have the ability to save you. It takes some time before you’re ready to realize the immensity of the loss of your child. It’s so humbling. It’s an experience I can’t even describe in words. Not having that child in your life is difficult to comprehend. There are so many things that go through your mind.

What helped me most were people that sent articles and books or folks that would listen to what I had to say about my grief, that would allow me to talk about Joe. People don’t realize that when you’ve had a loss you want to talk about that person. The first reaction from most people is they avoid talking about it with you.

I’ve realized what great gifts our children are. They don’t really belong to us. We don’t own them. It’s humbling when you realize you can’t control everything. I have memories of holding Joseph in my arms and saying to him, “As long as I’m here Joe nothing will happen to you,” but that’s not always true. They’re going to go places and be around people that aren’t always in your control. You have to trust that you taught them to have a sense of what’s right and wrong.

Though he’s gone physically, he and I are still connected. Our relationship continues. I think Joseph came here as an old soul. In a way he’s my teacher. Since he graduated so early he must have been ahead of the learning cycle.

When Joe was killed it opened me up to my soul. It helped me release myself to my life’s mission. I said, “God, I don’t know why I’m here; I’m obviously not understanding it. It’s too painful and debilitating. I don’t have any purpose in my life any longer. So I’m giving my life to you and to Joseph and whatever consciousness is out there. My life is yours. ou take it. You open the door and show me the way.”

When I did that, I realized the doors are open . . . there is a purpose. What I do now comes very easily. It’s very spiritual. It’s not something that’s coming from me; it’s coming through me. Isn’t that amazing? I find that I have more love now than I ever have.

When Joe was seven or eight, he gave me a card for some occasion or other. I opened it up and started crying. Inside the card was a drawing of some trees on a hillside, birds flying and in his handwriting it said, “Mom, I love you. I love being around you. You are like oxygen to me and I’m a tree. You are also as beautiful as a tree.”

Losing my son in that way was the painful beginning of a new, more open life. And he continues to live through every child he touches. With his story being heard over and over again it brings him to life. It’s Joe’s message, Joe’s story and I’m the vehicle . . . the messenger.”

Choosing To See Color

I grew up in the segregated North, in Redding California. Redding was mostly a lumber mill town when I was a child; a place people only saw on there way to somewhere else. My father worked in the lumber mill for over 40 years. Besides the Native American family from the Hoopa Tribe that lived across the street, white faces surrounded us, including our own when we looked in the mirror.

We played frequently with the “Indian Kids” as people called them and often heard our “good” neighbors’ accusations and insinuations about “those kids” father having a “drinking problem”. “He is Indian after all,” they would say, as if that explained everything. As a child, I didn’t understand the bigotry or stereotyping that was occurring. All I knew was that their father was rarely home and if he was we had to be very quiet.

In the late fifties and early sixties, from the age of about six to nine, my mother started working part time and hired a woman named Alberta to watch my sister and I at her home. Alberta was black and her husband, Lemual, was a Baptist Minister. They had two children, Albert and Brenda. They were probably the first black people we had ever met in person, let alone seen. They lived in a small dilapidated home in a run down part of town. Later, as a teenager, I became aware that most of the black people in Redding lived in a poor section of town, literally on the other side of the railroad tracks.

Alberta was a big, dark brown woman whose loud strong voice could stop us in our tracks. If Candace (my sister), Albert and Brenda and I were outside playing tag or hide-an-seek and Alberta called for us to come in, we didn’t linger, but headed in as fast as our legs could carry us. She was strict, but caring. I remember her giving us big warm hugs that enveloped our little bodies, until it felt like we had disappeared.

Occasionally, Alberta would take us all to her husband’s church and we would play outside while she attended choir practice. We would all moan, along with the other black kids hanging around, about how boring it was and wondered when they would be done.

Albert and Brenda fought off and on, like brothers and sisters do, but never picked on Candace and I. It was in Brenda’s bedroom that I first heard soul music. I think it was The Supremes, The Miracles and “Little” Stevie Wonder. We would dance and sing and laugh at all our dancing and clowning around, until Alberta told us to “Quiet down in there!”.

After three or four years, when my mother had divorced and remarried, our family moved to a bigger home, farther out from town and we stopped going over to Alberta’s. Mom said they kept in touch with Alberta and her family for awhile, but they eventually moved out of the area and she hasn’t heard from them in decades.

In the late sixties, I “went with” a girl who was black in high school. It only lasted a few weeks. At first I just followed her around until she noticed me, then we talked on and off and held hands once or twice. She was easy to spot, because she had a gigantic Afro and was one of only four black kids at the entire school. At the time, I was doing everything I could think of “against the establishment” and this was simply another way to proclaim my independence and spit in the face of convention. It didn’t really mean much to her nor I and I doubt if she would even remember it today.

What strikes me about all these experiences of childhood, adolescents and as an adult, is that I, as a white man, have always had the choice of when and how I chose to interact with or befriend people of color or deal with race. Sometimes I have done so when it fulfills a need, is convenient, gives me a sense of having “helped” someone or fits my self-image of being an excepting, understanding person. It was for my benefit and I had control of if and when.

When I interviewed Lee Mun Wah, a well-known facilitator and videographer, for my book on transforming grief for social good, he said, “We don’t take the time to really look, to really experience. The American Indian is right when they say, ‘You want my customs, my rituals and my land, but you don’t want me.’ What we do is, we use people and cultures. We use them when it’s convenient, for a service, for artifacts. Rarely do we take the time to understand how we relate to each other.”

At times, I too, have not really looked or listened. I have put people in boxes and preconceived easily digestible categories that make life comfortable and lead me to believe that “everything is so much better nowadays than it used to be.” And it is, in some respects, but it shouldn’t stop me from looking honestly at myself and not minimizing or candy-coating another persons experience out of my own need for security.

In Notes of a Native Son (1953) James Baldwin wrote, “The black man insists that the white man cease to regard him as an exotic rarity and recognize him as a human being. This is a very charged and difficult moment, for there is a great deal of will power involved in the white man’s naivete. Most people are not naturally reflective any more than they are naturally malicious, and the white man prefers to keep the black man at a certain human remove because it is easier for him thus to preserve his simplicity.”

I wish things were simple. I wish just talking about race and prejudice was simple. I wish everybody was treated equally and had the same opportunities, but we’re not. The best I can do is not be afraid to look at myself and the person in front of me through rose-colored glasses and tell the truth as I see it, inside and out. Nowadays, my friends who are black or brown are my friends because they are simply my friends and the same is true for our children and their friends. I don’t try to pretend however, to my self or others, that everyone is now treated equally.

In our society (and most around the world), the color of your skin still matters. I’m not going to turn away from this reality and act like the privilege’s I have as a white man in America don’t exist. I’m choosing to look at this reality face to face and call other white men and women on it when they act as if everything has changed and they say things like “We’re all equal. It doesn’t matter what color someone is.”. Race matters. If you don’t think so, try walking around in brown or black skin for awhile and see how you’re treated.

We have to acknowledge and respect our differences and take off the blinders, before we can move beyond difference and see that there is only one of us here.

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