There certainly is change in the air. We have turned our calendars to a new month, traded in our Halloween pumpkins and autumn leaves for Christmas wreaths and pine cones, and set our clocks to fall back.
To mark these timely changes, I have a proposal. For the few minutes it takes to read this article, let’s resolve to calm ourselves with positive thoughts. Let’s allow ourselves a respite from the saddening and maddening events that seem to keep piling up around us.
I am still smiling about a recent, fleetingly-enjoyable experience. I ran across an optical illusion, the kind containing two images. This particular one showed a picture of a Gibson Girl type figure. By adjusting my perspective, however, the image of a haggy, old lady appeared.
This rather well-known optical trickery has been widely used in academic studies about perception. It seems that young people tend to see the girl first, while the geriatric set immediately discovers the old lady.
Surprisingly, I “saw” the young lady right away but needed great concentration to find the old crone. It was delightful to feel young-at-heart, if only for a moment!
And just over a week ago, PBS announced the results of its Great American Read campaign. As I predicted, readers across the country voted to name To Kill a Mockingbird America’s best-loved novel. In fact, Harper Lee’s story of how a father modeled for his children integrity in the face of the racial injustice that still plagues society began the balloting in the top spot and never relinquished that position.
Other top ten finishers included the Outlander series, the Harry Potter series, Pride and Prejudice, Lord of the Rings, Gone with the Wind, Charlotte’s Web, Little Women, Chronicles of Narnia, and Jane Eyre.
The entire list of books from #1 through #100 is available online, but please indulge this mention of the novels whose progress I followed. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn finished 13th, followed by The Book Thief at 14th, with The Little Prince coming to rest in the 36th position. Such a great adventure in reading!
My favorite part of the Great American Read series featured readers, celebrity and non-celebrity alike, talking up their preferences. As comedian George Lopez pitched Siddhartha, he shared a special boyhood recollection. He and his classmates sat in front of one of his elementary teachers, who held up the book she was reading – in that special teacher way – and asked if everyone could see the picture. The Mexican-American television actor remembers the moment to this day: I felt so included… What a precious and priceless memory for all of us!
Thinking of inclusion brings Fred Rogers and his neighborhood immediately to mind. Although this gentle man who helped raise a generation of our children is no longer with us, his words soothed the grief of last week’s loss in a Pittsburgh synagogue. This former resident of the Squirrel Hill area recalled: When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people helping.” He continued: I am always comforted by realizing there are so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.
On Tuesdays and Wednesdays in a nearby school hallway, we can see one of those helpers Mr. Rogers mentioned. There she sits with whichever second-graders need her: this retired educator with her teaching skills, this avid reader and her love of books, this grandmother of four sharing her grandmotherly love – there in the hallway. How fortunate the second-graders are to receive her help, and how fortunate she is that they need her help. Wouldn’t it be even more wonderful if school hallways everywhere were filled with helpers and helpees?
Of course, in every hallway there is another kind of helper – in the person of the school custodian. I recently saw a news report about Mr. J., custodian for fifteen years at a Tennessee elementary school. Mr. J. has lived for most of his life with the hearing impairment he suffered during a bout with polio in his teens. He is so beloved by students that the kindergarteners decided to help him celebrate his 60th birthday by singing and signing “Happy Birthday.” Mr. J. laughed in happy surprise before wiping away tears as he “heard” their song.
Mr. J. later shared that he thought he had been called to the kindergarten room to clean up another mess. Then this unassuming man, who tries to teach the children good manners and how to treat others, added: It shows me I must be pretty important here.
Finally, I will share the positivity that Anne Frank found during one of history’s most horrifically-negative eras. I am calmed and inspired anew when I read her words, so wise beyond her young years: How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to change the world.
Imagine how much better we could make the world, one change at a time: starting right now to celebrate the occasional youthful moment, to eradicate all manner of divisive injustice through honorable behavior, to help comfort others and make them feel included and important, to share time and skills with the children in the hallway. Let’s pause just a bit longer during this season of change to consider the positive possibilities…
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.