Voices

Windows and Mirrors - The Power to Help by Florence Sprague - February 2019

I attend church regularly. I see myself not so much as a person of faith, but more as one of need, and now and then it offers me a clarification that I find worth sharing. One of those moments occurred last fall when I first heard a hymn by British hymnist Brian Wren, “Spirit of Jesus, If I Love My Neighbor” (find the full text at hymnary.org/text/spirit_of_jesus_if_i_love_my_neighbor). 

It doesn’t feel good to feel helpless. It especially doesn’t feel good if the reason you need help is because systems and groups have put you at an unfair disadvantage. And what do people do when something doesn’t feel good? Sometimes they become angry and resentful and push back.

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Widows and Mirrors - White Fragility by Florence Sprague - January 2019

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. — Marie Curie

My list of what to read next just keeps growing. One book that has recently settled onto my pile is White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo. The review of this book by Katy Waldman in The New Yorker (July 23, 2018, www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/a-sociologistexamines-the-white-fragility-that-prevents-white-americans-from-confronting-racism) has me intrigued. Waldman describes DiAngelo as presenting a “methodical, irrefutable exposure of racism.” I need to read this book to get a fuller understanding of her thesis. I hope that I do not misrepresent it.

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Widows and Mirrors - Music or Noise by Florence Sprague - November 2018

When does a sound, even music, become noise? Is it the volume, time of day, type of sound, location, relationship of the listener to the sound, personal taste, personal needs, race of the listener, race of the sound maker?

I well recall how the girl across the hall in my freshman dorm put a penny on the tone arm of her record player so that it played Bob Dylan singing “Lay, Lady, Lay” loudly over and over and over and over. And then there was the incident of a resident of a town blaring opera back across the street at a fraternity when disturbed by the loud rock music filling the neighborhood.

These are annoyances, matters of musical preference, and cases where one’s sound of choice spills over into the wider environment without sufficient regard for others. But loud music can uncover much more about how people feel about one another.

The music of others can expose or trigger instances of racism and discrimination and highlight a sensitive issue that has been called the sonic color line. Jennifer Stoever, Associate Professor of English at State University of New York (SUNY) Binghamton and author of a book examining.

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Windows and Mirrors - Then What? by Florence Sprague, November 2019

What do you call a person who has completed a prison sentence? A felon? An ex-felon? An ex-convict? A neighbor?  How about a returning citizen? At least 95% of those incarcerated in state prisons will return to the community at some point (csgjusticecenter.org/nrrc/facts-and-trends/). We will all benefit from finding a healthy way to reintegrate these individuals into the community and rebuild lives.

An orderly society requires that there be consequences for unlawful actions. There are many issues of (un)fairness in the US criminal justice system. I am considering what happens when persons convicted of a crime complete their time in prison and return to the community.

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Windows and Mirrors - And Don't Tell Me You're Retired by Florence Sprague, October 2018

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples to build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” ― Robert F. Kennedy

It is election season. Active Leaguers are registering voters, staffing candidate forums, talking to friends and neighbors about the value of informed voting, learning about the issues that affect their lives, thinking about how they would like to see them addressed, and seeing where candidates stand on those issues.

The challenges that face our world can seem overwhelming. The momentum built into our political system makes course changes grindingly difficult. It is easy to feel powerless. But while I don’t think that I will be the butterfly who changes history, I still believe that what individuals do for their communities does matter.

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Windows and Mirrors- Outlawed by Florence Sprague, September 2018

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable...Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Where do you look for insight into tough topics? If one is lucky, every now and then you come across a writer who states things clearly and directly, someone who cuts to the heart of a matter, laying bare human truths. Trevor Noah does that in his memoir of his childhood in South Africa, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.

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Windows and Mirrors - What Do We Tell Our Children by Florence Sprague, July 2018

What DO we tell our children when the inexplicable happens or tragedy strikes? It has been two years since the shocking, pointless shooting death of Philando Castile put Falcon Heights on the undesirable list of sites of recent police shootings of black men and boys, and that question still lingers in the air. Is the policeman a friend? Or is the policeman yet another danger in an unsafe world? Is there justice after tragedy? What is just? Who defines justice?  Can meaning be found in the senseless? How can anger and pain be channeled so that it does not devour the sufferer?

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Windows and Mirrors - Let's Get Graphic by Florence Sprague , May 2018

Or: Reading Across the Generations

Millennials aren’t only more “wired” than many of their elders, they also often read different types of works. One popular option is books combining creative illustrations with smaller amounts of text: graphic novels. This is a different way to look at literature, ideas, and the world. Exploring these books can connect generations. Recently I have begun to dip my toes into the unfamiliar waters of these image-based books written for adults, with help from younger friends and relatives, and I have been intrigued by many of the offerings.

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Windows and Mirrors - Rhyme and Reason by Florence Sprague, April 2018

April is National Poetry Month. People often associate poetry with ambiguity, obscurity, and torturous English papers analyzing symbolism. It’s time to look at poetry again. The world is awash in poetry today and some of the poems are quite remarkable. They can helpus to build bridges.

Sample a variety of poets from different communities at the library or on the internet. Ask friends for recommendations and if...no, when you find a poet with whom you connect, keep reading. No one will connect with all poems, but a good poet can find amazing ways to reveal the heart of an issue.

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Windows and Mirrors - Attitudes by Florence Sprague, March 2018

The most disabling thing in our lives is the thing we can do the most about: our attitude. - Jeff Smith, aka Amazing Jeffo, blind magician

You may have seen the athletic wear t-shirts exhorting the wearer to get “attitude” so as to be a winner. We always have an attitude. It can be good or bad, positive or negative, kind or cruel, but we always have an attitude.

Everyone faces challenges. Some are physical and more obvious than others, but as advice columnist, Amy Dickinson, has noted, “Life does not evenly distribute its hardships and joys, and so you should stop keeping score.” We all have challenges and can hopefully seek support and guidance in working through them and respect the choices others make in dealing with theirs.

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