Voices

Windows and Mirrors - Two Should Be Greater Than One - Florence Sprague - November/December 2021

English, English, English. It is the language of common parlance in the United States and is traditionally considered beneficial for economic success worldwide. But there is another aspect for immigrant families. When learning English comes at the cost of not learning the language of your parents and grandparents, there is profound loss. Loss of connection to elders, culture, identity, history, community…

In Europe it is not uncommon for people to be bilingual, or multi-lingual. English is often the second or third language. It does not erase the other languages, nor does speaking German, French, or Czech as a first language prevent the learning of English. In Africa many people speak multiple languages, a mix of local and colonial. It is not an inherent limitation of the human brain to speak or understand only one form of communication. What is it about the United States that makes bilingualism so difficult to sustain?

Windows and Mirrors - Willkommen, Bienvenue, Salam - Florence Sprague - October 2021

One of my sisters taught German at a private school for decades. She is a fluent speaker of German and knowledgeable about the minutiae of German grammar. In retirement, and particularly during the COVID-19 lockdown, she has been trading German lessons for Spanish lessons with another retired colleague who taught Spanish. They meet on Zoom to speak, and give one another practice exercises and options for exploration on DuoLingo. I admire her for even taking on this enterprise.

What is interesting is that despite being an expert at one foreign language, and despite having had some Spanish in high school, she often complains that she just can’t seem to remember all of the new vocabulary she is supposed to be learning. Not long ago she remarked that she has a new sympathy with older immigrants trying to learn English and struggling. Ahhh.

Windows and Mirrors - A Place to Call Home - Florence Sprague - July-August 2021

“Fear is the cheapest room in the house. I would like to see you living in better conditions.” Hafiz, Persian poet, 1315-1390

It’s a long time since I have been a renter. There are plusses and minuses to renting versus owning, both in terms of finances and responsibilities. But those questions and choices are irrelevant to many low-income renters in America.

In 2017, sociologist Matthew Desmond won a Pulitzer Prize, and other recognitions, for his searing study, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Though it was highly acclaimed, it did not make it to the top of my reading pile at the time. This year with pandemic related moratoria on evictions, news of gaps in those leading to loss of housing, the visible challenges of balancing the interests of landlords and low-income renters who may be essential workers, and more, it came to mind again.

Windows and Mirrors - After John Lewis - Florence Sprague - September 2020

"For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them."—Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk, poet, peace activist

After the death of John Lewis earlier this summer it felt important to write about his life and work, but everything I penned felt trite or repetitive. My words paled when compared to the eloquent words from those who knew him personally and eulogized him so powerfully at his memorial service. He worked tirelessly all of his life for civil rights growing from a young man who wanted change NOW and was willing to put his very life on the line to challenge bigoted laws, to a revered elder statesman still working with tenacity to keep the unmet goals in the public eye and on the agenda. May he rest in peace at last.

Windows and Mirrors - No Pain, No Gain -Florence Sprague - July 2020

“[What should you do?] Educate Yourself!” Ava Duvernay, PBS Newshour Special, June 5, 2020

You don’t really need me to tell you this. It is everywhere these days. It being discussion of inequities, disparities, misunderstandings, being ignored, or glossed over. But white people really must educate themselves and begin acting. Our collective future depends on it, as well as our souls.

Windows and Mirrors - Stir Crazy - Florence Sprague - May 2020

The young woman was quite literally sitting in the open window of her apartment, her legs and torso making an L that filled the window frame. This image accompanying the news report about the stay at home orders in many states triggered a thought. The image encapsulated the human need to move around in and interact with its environment, whether urban or rural; the need to socialize, to make choices. It also triggered the thought of the thousands (millions?) of incarcerated individuals for whom even sitting in the sun in a window frame is an unattainable pleasure for years at a time.

Windows and Mirrors - Seek Joy -Florence Sprague- March 2020

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”  Rabindranath Tagore-Bengali poet, philosopher, polymath 1913 Nobel Laureate in Literature.

Service. Such an ambiguous concept in today’s parlance. Being in service in the past meant not just paid employment to serve, but also a class categorization. Being in the service has a military connotation. More generally, even in respected jobs, there is an overtone of being subject to the demands of others—not always a pleasant position. A willingness to serve requires or reflects an attitude often not respected in today’s ME culture. Public service? Too often scorned and denigrated, or distorted. Is service a contribution or a subordination?

Windows and Mirrors - The Burden of Being Black by Florence Sprague, February 2020

How do you express when something weighs heavily on your soul? Weighs heavily on your opportunities? Weighs heavily on your very existence?

In his searing memoir, Heavy, Kiese Laymon lays bare his experience of the immense burden of being black in the United States. Growing up, his mother surrounded him with an incessant drumbeat to be better than any white person could require him to be, by using perfect grammar, an expansive vocabulary and an extensive reading list. He did this while also living the life of a black boy in Mississippi seeking to develop a vocabulary of pride in blackness and solidarity with his peers. The immense toll that that these clashing stressors took on his psyche and his body often emerged in his weight. His life was heavy and so was his body. When as an adult he took control of his weight through diet and exercise, it became obsessive in the reverse.

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Windows and Mirrors - The Words of Someone Wiser by Florence Sprague - January 2020

“It takes two to speak the truth: one to speak and another to hear.” Henry David Thoreau

It is January and we enter a new year still burdened with old challenges. This month I turn most of my space over to someone far more eloquent than I, The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. The six principles of non-violence grace the wall surrounding the entry plaza of the King Cen-ter. Principle number 3 reads “Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people.” That’s worth remembering.

One of Dr. King’s most well-known writings is his Letter from Birmingham Jail. He was imprisoned for participating in nonviolent demonstrations against segregation and wrote this in response to the public expressions of concern about such demonstrations by a group of white Southern religious leaders who urged caution. Here are some of Dr. King’s words in that Letter to ponder as we enter the new decade.

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Windows and Mirrors - Education - Chicken or Egg? by Florence Sprague, October 2019

“Progress of the world depends almost entirely upon education.” — George Eastman

I have always been a strong believer in and supporter of education and public schools. At times I have felt like the schools were expected to “solve” societal challenges that people didn’t want to deal with more broadly, bussing being a prime example. We don’t know how to address segregation and racial inequality so we put it all on the schools.

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