Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Peace Corps and a Convergence of Kindred Spirits

I’m teaching a course on the U.S. Peace Corps at Lourdes University this fall, for its Lifelong Learning Program, so I’m doing some research and reading.   

I just finished Mark K. Shriver’s A Good Man (Henry Holt, 2012), his adoring biography of his father Sargent Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps.

It perfectly complements another book I’m reading, given to me as a gift by my cousin Kathy Curro (the same cousin who gave me the gift of Mary Oliver’s poems): Parker J. Palmer’s Healing the Heart of Democracy: THE COURAGE TO CREATE A POLITICS WORTHY OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT (Jossey-Bass 2011).   

Sargent Shriver had that courage in spades, as his son tells us.  A man of deep faith, Shriver was the best first director the fledgling Peace Corps could have had.  President John Kennedy picked the right man for the job, no doubt about it.  Shriver never lost his faith in the Peace Corps’ purpose and promise, almost a religious devotion without end.  Peace Corps, for Shriver and the many volunteers he nurtured, in Africa, Southeast Asia, South America and around the world, was a triumph of the human spirit. Because of his belief in it, because of his actions and his faith, Peace Corps is still going 50 years later.   

Sargent Shriver and Parker Palmer represent a convergence of kindred spirits and shared beliefs, a precious flash of  hope in our often harsh, mean-spirited, and conflicted world.  It’s a convergence I discovered by accident, serendipity, because I care about Peace Corps and the future of our democracy, and about teaching, and because I have wonderful cousins and family and friends who do, too.   

Palmer closes his book with a quote from the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, another kindred spirit, one of many that Palmer shares with us:
       “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope.  Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith.  Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love.”

It’s a philosophy of life that could have been written, and indeed something like it was written, by Sargent Shriver, before and after the Peace Corps became a reality:  “I believe in faith, hope, and love,” Shriver wrote.  “I believe that they have power.”    For Sargent Shriver, the Peace Corps was a testament to that power.

Rising above the cacophonous sounds of contemporary politics, the voices of Shriver, Parker Palmer, and Reinhold Niebuhr give us hope for a future rooted in compassion.  Change toward a just and equitable society and peaceful relations in the world, may not happen in our lifetime, but it will happen in time. To me that's what Peace Corps and the  convergence of kindred spirits is all about.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Ukrainian-Style Farewell to our Ukrainian Visitors to America

Our guests were Volodymyr, Serhiy, Yulia, Iryna,
Andrii, and Mykola
I had a farewell party for our western Ukrainian friends last Thursday night. I put a big bouquet of golden and yellow sunflowers and the  Ukrainian flag on a dining table loaded with goodies, and lots of beer.  I had copies of photos from our road trip to Ann Arbor and Detroit, Michigan, to share with our guests.    

Elissa used her photoshop skills to make a wonderful photo of a van blazoned with “Ukrainian Freedom Fighters” on it, like her own van that put on almost 300 miles for our Michigan trip, broken window and  funny noises that Serhii heard from the back seat  notwithstanding.  Elissa, who is known for her love of Challengers (that's a car, for the uninitiated) and other “muscle” cars, among other things, also  gave our guests toy models of her favorite cars.  

Laura Kline, our professor of Russian language and literature extraordinaire, was our fearless translater.  She brought Michigan souvenirs as gifts and enough food to feed an army, knowing Russian traditions as well as she does.  That included chocolates, in the Ukrainian tradition of gift-giving.  It was a night of joy and laughter. Cross-cultural understanding, appreciation and love at its best!

We three together did pretty well as hosts, by Ukrainian standards.   We showed our Ukrainian friends good old Ukrainian hospitality, American style.  We hope they enjoyed their visit to the Toledo area and to the great city of Chicago, and wish them well on their journey home today.  May their memories of the USA be as precious as my memories of their country and its people.

"To Ukraine!  To the USA! To you!  To us!  To good health! Hooray for our USA-Ukraine partnership!   Для України! У США! Для Вас! Для нас. Для гарного здоров'я! Хай живе наша США-Україна партнерство!"

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mom's Piano

It was 1938, and an idealistic young couple decided to get married.  America was suffering through a depression, and Europe struggled into war with the rise of Hitler in Germany. The couple's love blossomed.  She was a  teacher in Rochester, NY, and he an aspiring businessman in Buffalo.  She loved music; he loved tennis.  She remembered that they played tennis for their first date. "I was terrible," she laughed, "but he was gentle and kind."  He remembered that she played the piano for him.  They married in January 1939, and the handsome man with black hair and a loving heart gave his bride, her green eyes sparkling, the gift of a lifetime: a beautiful ivory Baldwin piano. My mom and dad.  Young love.  The gift of music. 

I came along a year and a half later.  Then my sister Andy, and eight years later, my brother Loren.  Life moved on: World War, the 1950s and '60s, business, family, transitions, changes. 

The piano was the centerpiece, the heart-stone, of our lives.  My mom's playing the piano and singing, practicing arias from the whole Opera repertoire, are among my earliest memories.   Mom continued to take voice lessons at least until we were through high school.  I later called her my Madama Butterfly, which she found amusing and, I think, gratifying.  I took piano lessons with eager young piano students at the Eastman School of Music. My mom would threaten to take away the lessons when I misbehaved, or didn’t practice enough. I cried terribly at the thought, although I was no prodigy. My sister took lessons, too, and did so well she graduated to a real teacher at the Eastman.  I felt  embarrassed when my parents asked me to play for relatives and friends who visited our home on Landing Road South.  My sister loved performing, as I remember it.

That piano traveled with my mom wherever she was.  In Buffalo, in Rochester, to Toledo after my dad died in 1977,  to Tallahassee, Florida in 1984, when she moved to be closer to my sister and her kids, and my brother in Orlando.   After mom died in 2003, the piano had a precarious existence with me, my kids and friends and others.  But I always knew that piano belonged in our family.  I held on to that thought even after the piano was “temporarily” stored in the Toledo home of a kind-hearted babysitter for at least 4 years, when I lived in a small condo in St. Petersburg, Fl, and then while I was with the Peace Corps in Ukraine for two years.  Neither of my daughters had room for it at the time.  Nan the babysitter said the kids loved it.  To me the piano, although it has a very heavy harp, floated for some time.

Recently, now living in Sylvania, Ohio, I asked my daughter Michelle if she’d like to have mom’s  piano in the lovely home she bought a year ago, when she was expecting Chase.   I was thrilled when she said yes, and “I have just the spot for it!”  I called Nan, the nice woman who had taken care of the piano, to arrange to have it moved to Michelle’s. The harp weighs a ton, especially for an Art Deco spinet that’s not a grand piano.  But to me the piano has always been grand, and I was happy to supervise while wonderful friends of Michelle's and my grandson Josh moved the piano from the back of a pick-up, up the steps, into the house.  

Mom’s piano is now gracing Michelle’s dining room, sitting across from a pretty Craftsmen built-in sideboard with leaded glass.  The eras, the architectural styles, match perfectly! Michelle immediately placed photos of my mom and dad, her beloved Nana and grandpa, on the piano.  It seemed just right.  The piano, seventy-three-years-old, has come home.  Just like me, I thought to myself!

Kyle, Chase and Philip enjoy banging on it.  Who knows?  Maybe one of them will want to take lessons and play one day.   But  no matter.  I feel my mom and dad are happy that the piano has come home, still in the family where it belongs, a gift of love and devotion, of youthful dreams and undying hope.            

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ukrainian group visits Toledo

Welcome reception in Maumee for Ukrainian
delegation from Rivne and Ternopil Oblasts
(counties) in Western Ukraine. Above, Elissa shares
Sylvania Advantage with Rivne journalist Volodymyr Torbich. 

Ukrainian Flag, photo by Peter Musolino, flickr. 

“Hello, my name is Iryna.”  Iryna is one of a nine-member delegation from western Ukraine visiting the US, thanks to the Great Lakes Consortium of Training and Development, with funding from USAID.  I was at a  welcome reception in Maumee, Ohio, just south of Toledo, for the newly arrived group, with my daughter Elissa, who’s a graphic designer at the Sylvania Advantage, and her friend Laura Kline, a professor of Russian Language and Literature at Wayne State University.  

“I’m Fran and happy to meet you.  I spent two years in Ukraine, but in the East, not the West; I’m sorry I do not know Ukrainian.”   She smiled and nodded, but I don’t know if she fully understood me.  Maybe I was talking too fast. I'm told some of the delegation understands more English than others. For those with little English, the translators are essential. 

I understand. It can be very frustrating, the language barrier. I learned survival Russian during my Ukrainian stay, but for the most part I was in the dark for two years, unable to have a normal conversation about what I was seeing, doing, feeling, about the simplest things.  My host moms in Chernigov and in Starobelsk were as frustrated as I was. You want so much to be able to converse, but it’s difficult to impossible.  Language becomes a huge barrier, and it takes time to find ways around it to build relationships.  

But I was delighted to be with this group of lively and inquisitive people from Ukraine.  Elizabeth Balint, project manager of the Consortium’s international exchange program, introduced each one, all from Rivne or Ternopil oblasts in Western Ukraine:
* Serhiy Anoshchenko, mayor, Kuznecovsk City Council 
* Ivan Bashnyak, mayor, Borschiv City Council
* Vitaliy Undir, mayor deputy, Ostroh City Council
* Ihor Hul, mayor deputy, Berezhany City Council, and a great guitar player who led the group in a patriotic song.
* Andrii Hreshchuk, City council secretary, Rivne City Council
* Mykola Orlov, Chairman, NGO Analytical Center of City Development “ZEON”
* Volodymyr Torbich, director, main editor, Rivne NGO “Agency for Investigative Journalism" 
* Yulia Parfenchuk, lawyer, leading specialist, and member Kremenets City Council  
* Iryna Pakhniuk, Consultant for coordination and cooperation with local government departments, Rivne Regional Council.

What a powerful and talented group! How I’d love to sit with each and every one and talk about what they do, how their cities are faring, what goals they have, what dreams for the future of Ukraine.  Instead, I can only hope that their three-week stay in the Toledo area will provide the opportunities they seek to learn more about strengthening local government and economic development.  

I'm sure that the cultural exchanges--staying with host families, attending local events and festivals, museums and parks, even baseball games, along with attending seminars and professional development programs--will have a strong impact and strengthen the ties between Ukraine and the US.  

“I hope to learn more about your government and also about journalism practices and the media here,” Volodymyr  said through the group’s interpreter Sasha Etlin. He looked over the Sylvania Advantage newspaper Elissa had with her.  He couldn’t read it, but the idea of a community newspaper supported by local advertisers interested him.  

Community-based journalism is, afterall, relatively new in Ukraine, where for so long the State, the central government, controlled the news, and some say still does.   Journalists there have been silenced and imprisoned for telling true stories about human rights abuses, corruption, injustice and central government interference in local affairs.

I was once again reminded of how new the ideas of  government of, by, and for the people are in Ukraine; how new the idea of local governance, transparency and community involvement in decision-making; how brave the people, like the members of this delegation, who are working for change.  

Like American democracy, Ukrainian democracy is in process, and the challenges are daunting.  But I learned while in Ukraine that change is happening from the bottom up, all across the country, east to west. It's often not visible, yet, but I have faith that it will be one day.  

This 9-member delegation of Ukrainian local officials and activists is testimony to this development and this hope.  I wish them all the best of luck.   Я бажаю їм усім удачі.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Our Spiderman Does the Zoo

"Philip, do you want to go to the zoo," his Gran E asked.  "No, I don't want to go to the zoo."

"That's what he said about the art museum,"  I reminded her.

"But he LOVES the zoo," my daughter said.  So we went to the zoo.

Once Philip got acclimated to being there, he became our Spiderman, just as his tee shirt proclaimed.  While we contemplated what animals to see, Philip revived and headed straight for the little park with its tree house and super slide.  After lots of climbing, jumping, and sliding (which is how he broke his arm but he remains fearless), he went for the interactive, action-oriented education center, past the snakes (which he said he wanted to see), and the lions and tigers and bears.

Philip climbed the honey comb and Spiderman's web, watched worker ants build nests and worker bees make honey, petted a soft guinea pig (so tenderly), showed off a bit on a TV screen, played a computer game tracking animals, played doctor for an ailing stuffed rabbit, and generally ran from one thing to another.  It's not easy for a great-grandmother to keep up with a five-year-old whirling dervish playing Spiderman, but I try.  Gran E went patiently around with her grandson, but even she needed to sit once in a while.

I enjoyed the animal sculptures, like the Elephant and bear sculptures; the colorful birds; and a fish tank with a bright blue and yellow fish that reminded me of Ukraine.  Philip stopped for a breather on that one; a Ukrainian fish, I told him. Then off he went to run, climb, take some spectacular jumps, and help the needy.  Our Spiderman!

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Art and A Little Boy

Toledo Museum of Art's "Color Ignited" exhibit, celebrating the
 founding of the American Glass Arts Movement.  The Matisse
mosaic (top right), a Richard Rauschenberg (lower left), and
the Frank Gehry-designed education building.. 
We dragged five-year-old Philip to the Art Museum today.  Elissa and I wanted to see the exhibit, “Color Ignited: Glass 1962-2012.” The exhibit celebrates the 50th anniversary of the 1962 Toledo Workshops, the birth of the American Studio Glass Movement. 

Many people, the world over, associate the movement with artists like Dale Chihuly. Truth be told, Chihuly is in a great tradition that began in the early 1960s in Toledo, Ohio, corporate home of Libbey Glass and other entrepreneurial glass companies. This is where it all started, in the "Glass City," with engineers, chemists and glassblowers such as Dominick Labino, Harvey Littleton, and Harvey Leafgreen, who experimented with glass and color to create a new art form, and a new appreciation for the use of glass and artistic expression.  

It was Edward Drummond Libbey,in fact, founder and president of Libbey Glass, who established the Toledo Museum of Art, which came to serve as the incubator and cradle of the American Studio Glass Movement.  Libbey also had a grand home in the Old West End, near the Art Museum.

Philip was not interested.  He wanted to play games on the computer.  He wanted to play with his action toys. He didn’t want to go to the museum.  He protested.  He whined.  We promised him he could play on the computer after we went to the Art Museum. He wasn’t easily mollified.

The Toledo Art Museum is one of the finest in the country, in the world.  It’s in a beautiful beaux arts building with a Frank Gehry addition and a modern glass museum newly built across the street. The museum is renowned for its collection of Old Master paintings, decorative arts, contemporary art and scuplture, and glass. I remember the imaginative and fantastic glass collection of the late 1960s and 1970s, when I lived in Toledo, enamoured of it but unaware of how special it was, how pioneering.      

Once we got to the museum and saw the Matisse tile mosaic, called “Apollo,” Philip quieted down.  He liked the Egyptian room and the mummies. We went through a couple of contemporary art galleries, some of which he liked, like the Richard Rauschenberg and abstract art.  He did not like the sculpture, including some great pieces by Louise Nevelson and David Smith.  We got to the glass exhibit and he was almost interested, pointed to various pieces of wall art and sculpture and what looked like fabric art  but was really tiny glass mosaics beautifully woven. 

Okay, this was enough art for Philip.  The cries for escape started up again; Elissa and I looked at each other, sighed, and  decided it was time to go. 

Will we be able to instill some appreciation for art in an active boy who likes everything physical, digital, and interactive? Maybe. On the other hand, not everyone is an art lover. Elissa reminded me that we have one little art lover in our family, Kyle, who likes art galleries and festivals.     

When his Gran E asked, “Hey Philip, did you like the museum?”  He said "Aha.”  Then he got busy with his action toys and soldiers and cars and trucks, between time on the computer monitored by his Gran E. 

The reluctant visit to the Toledo Museum of Art receded into his unconscious, where, who knows, it might stay buried, or it might one day be re-awakened, re-ignited like his first art glass exhibit!       

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