Thursday, November 24, 2011

Nostalgic November

My mother Nancy on the left, with her brother Bill, and father Carl.
Maybe they are watching a Thanksgiving or Christmas Parade? 
I love this time of year partly because of all the opportunities for celebration. Beginning with Halloween, quickly followed by my birthday, Thanksgiving, and what seems like a sprint to Christmas and New Years, it is an extended period of time to make merry with friends and loved ones. For me, it's also an opportunity to use up my accrued vacation days which, good or bad, gives me much free time to ruminate on my life. I have to confess, though, that I'm having difficulty keeping the memories of past holidays from coming to the forefront. I'm a firm believer that change can be good, but also acknowledge that change is sometimes thrust upon us, and that it may take longer to find your new path. Be patient, I keep reminding myself. A week ago some of my good friends and co-workers lost their jobs, and I found myself affirming how much I believe in fate. Over the years I've seen how fate usually has a way of working out favorably – aside from death, of course. How could death ever be a welcome act of fate?

Looks like Thanksgiving Dinner with our neighbors on Miles Road.

Last November, the memory of my mother's death was still quite raw, so my solution was to ignore my birthday and the upcoming holidays. I spent as little time with family as possible and planned to work through the holidays. I figured it would be best for me to pretend there wasn't a Thanksgiving, or Christmas, rather than feel depressed, and then guilty, about wanting to have a good time, or possibly, gasp, even enjoying myself. I was fine with other people celebrating the holiday and being happy, I just didn't want to be there with them. Luckily, my brother who lives closest to me went on vacation with his family so it made skipping Christmas a breeze. I have to thank them for leaving, as well as for inviting me to go with them to the Caribbean. Though I was stuck in New England under blizzard conditions for several days, with two houses, two dogs, two cats, and a rabbit to care for, I was happy with my decision. What is my goal for this year? I am acknowledging the holidays and plan to participate in some small way. A small step, but in the right direction.

Lately I have been volunteering my time more than usual, to try and direct, or maybe distract, my thoughts in a more positive direction during these family-focused months. My favorite endeavor is with In2Books, an organization I've been involved with for over four years. It's a e-mentoring literacy pen pal program connected with Title 1 schools. At the start of every school year, you are matched with a student somewhere in the States (you know each other only by first names). Your student picks a book for the both of you to read, and then you write letters back and forth discussing the book. Most of the letters are very sweet, funny, and always poignant, and by the end of the year, they are very much improved. Last year I introduced this program to my company and recruited over 40 people to be pen pals. This year I've been able to get more corporate interest and exposure by adding In2Books to our Volunteer Match program. I'm incredibly thankful to have found this organization and to be involved on a one-on-one basis with a student, albeit virtual. I hope I make as big an impact on their lives as they do on mine.

A couple of weeks ago I volunteered for Junior Achievement for JA Day, a one-day assignment to teach a second grade class at a Title 1 Catholic school in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Despite the fact I've been working for an educational publisher for over 20 years and have knowledge of lesson plans, learning objectives, and core curriculum, I never imagined actually using this information in a classroom. My only interest in teaching has always been the two months vacation in the summer! Luckily, JA makes this activity easy to accomplish with their detailed teacher instruction and a multitude of activities to keep the kids engaged. I was partnered with a woman from my office who was equally as nervous and excited as I was. We couldn't have asked for a better class – the kids were amazing, bright, excited, thoughtful, disciplined, and happy we were there – as was the teacher. We were done by noon, which was plenty long enough for me. However I am looking forward to teaching again soon, and hope to find the time in the Spring to join JA Day again. Maybe first grade this time?

The other volunteer activity I've been doing actually merges my interest in genealogy with my background in photography. I am a volunteer photographer for (Find A Grave), a worldwide database of burial graves. Yes, that's right, a graves registration website.  I have always had an interest in cemeteries – growing up in Connecticut gave me ample access to small 17th century cemeteries where I could practice my grave rubbing skills. Within a week of signing up as a volunteer photographer, I had over two dozen assignments to find and photograph headstones in nearby cemeteries. After hours of strolling, squinting, and squatting to read the ancient engravings, my eyes grew tired and started playing tricks on me. Fisher wasn't a name on my list, but when I came across this stone I took a second glance. Was I seeing this correctly? Philander Fisher? Was that his name or his reputation?

A little research shows that it was a common name in the 18th and 19th centuries; one example being poet Edward Young's character Philander in his 1742 book Night Thoughts. Maybe Philander Fisher was named after this famous character?
By Nature's law, what may be, may be now;
There's no prerogative in human hours.
In human hearts what bolder thought can rise,
Than man's presumption on to-morrow's dawn?
Where is to-morrow? In another world.
For numbers this is certain; the reverse
Is sure to none; and yet on this perhaps,
This peradventure, infamous for lies,
As on a rock of adamant we build
Our mountain hopes, spin out eternal schemes
As we the Fatal Sisters could out-spin,
And big with life's futurities, expire.
Not ev'n Philander had bespoke his shroud,
Nor had he cause; a warning was deny'd:
How many fall as sudden, not as safe!
As sudden, though for years admonish'd home.
Of human ills the last extreme beware;
Beware, Lorenzo, a slow-sudden death.
How dreadful that deliberate surprise!
Be wise to-day; 'tis madness to defer;
Next day the fatal precedent will plead;
Thus on, till wisdom is push'd out of life.
Procrastination is the thief of time;
Year after year it steals, till all are fled,
And to the mercies of a moment leaves
The vast concerns of an eternal scene.
If not so frequent, would not this be strange?
That 'tis so frequent, this is stranger still.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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