Home again

 My family adventure of the last nine days contains three highlights: meeting my granddaughter, driving many miles, and seeing the Grand Canyon.

  1. Those of you who have met a grandchild for the first time already know what I would be describing. The rest of you might or might not understand. Either way, words fail to convey the most important moments of a voyage that lasted slightly more than two hundred hours.
  2. The voyage, from driveway to driveway, was roughly 1,900 miles, or a bit more than 3000 kilometers. We were in five states but saw license plates from 46 states (missing only Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Vermont). We experienced open highways and construction delays. We saw spacious skies and also drove through heavy rains in northern New Mexico and Arizona. (Who ya gonna call? Drought-Busters!) We observed smoke and ash from western wildfires. Our trip included mountains and canyons, hills and valleys, prairies and deserts and conditions in between, oaks and pines and mesquite and sagebrush and cacti (clearly planted in crop rows) and corn and alfalfa. At one point we drove through the region where Apollo astronauts practiced walking on the moon. (Only on the last day of our voyage did it occur to me that, at roughly the same time fifty-two years earlier, three men spent nine days in a little metal box so they could walk for an hour or two on the surface of the moon. They had no rest stops, no restaurants, and no motels—just a long trip in a small metal box.) We saw the Hoover Dam and Area 51. I stood—not at a corner, but in a gas station—in Winslow, Arizona. We should have turned left at Albuquerque.  
  3. When we told people back home that we planned a side trip to the Grand Canyon, they assured us that we would be amazed and astounded and awed. That concerned me—when people tell me how to feel, I often feel the opposite. But viewing the Grand Canyon was memorable and impressive. Rather than merely driving there and looking around on our own, we paid to join a tour group that traveled from Flagstaff, Arizona, up to the South Rim and back. Our driver and guide was a geologist who also leads hiking and rafting tours through the Grand Canyon. He drove us to six different locations on the South Rim, giving us twenty or thirty minutes at each location to view the Canyon and explore the area, while he parked the vehicle and then met us again, sparing us much of the hassle that many tourists face in that National Park. A generous lunch was included in the package, and our guide was able to share copious information about the geology, history, flora and fauna, and significance of the Canyon and its surrounding area, including personal anecdotes and observations. He mentioned, for example, that most of the deaths at the Grand Canyon are the result of heat and dehydration, not from falls into the Canyon. The guide said that an average of five people a year die in the Grand Canyon but that there have already been ten deaths this year. (A later Internet search gave an average of twelve deaths per year at the Grand Canyon, but that statistic included aircraft crashes and drownings in the Colorado River.)

For the journey, I brought books from my long-term reading plan and also drafts of writing I hope to publish. I found little time for the latter project, but I did keep up with my reading. Ironically, before going to sleep the night after we visited the Grand Canyon, my reading included the following selection from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse Five: “…and Billy was flung back into his childhood. He was twelve years old, quaking as he stood with his mother and father on Bright Angel Point, at the rim of the Grand Canyon. The little human family was staring at the floor of the canyon, one mile straight down. ‘Well—’ said Billy’s father, manfully kicking a pebble into space, ‘there it is.’ They had come to this famous place by automobile. They had had seven blowouts on the way. ‘It was worth the trip,’ said Billy’s mother raptly. ‘Oh, God—was it ever worth it.’ Billy hated the canyon. He was sure that he was going to fall in. His mother touched him, and he wet his pants. There were other tourists looking down into the canyon, too, and a ranger was there to answer questions. A Frenchman who had come all the way from France asked the ranger in broken English if many people committed suicide by jumping in. ‘Yes, sir,’ said the ranger. ‘About three folks a year.’ So it goes.” J.

Birth announcement

My first grandchild was born this week. Mother (and father) and baby are all doing well. Those who are interested have already been given information about length and weight and time of birth. These statistics are less important than the report that all are in good health. (Time of birth is especially arbitrary, given the reality of time zone and of Daylight Saving Time.)

I am careful not to say that I became a grandfather this week. My daughter and her husband are firm, and rightly so, to say that their daughter has been a person for some months as she developed before birth. They celebrated their first Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day this spring, and they have gently corrected those people who suggest that they became parents at the birth of their daughter, as if she was less than a person prior to being born.

I was not able to be there this week for the occasion of her birth. But several members of the family will be making the pilgrimage next week to be present when she is born again in Holy Baptism. (I am prepared to give a Biblical explanation of infant baptism to anyone who is interested, but that is not my reason for writing this evening.) The baby will meet her family and no doubt be passed from one person to another. Not all the family can make the trip this month; other family members hope and plan to visit later in the year.

The trip there and back will take several days, so after the coming weekend I will have a short vacation from blogging and other online activities. I could find ways to remain active online, but I am choosing instead to take this vacation. It will be good for me to be free from social media for a few days, and I’m sure that I will catch up with anything important once I find my way back home.

Meanwhile, this weekend I have some writing to do—some continuation of blogging themes, and some other writing that needs to be done. I will even take some work with me—writing to read and edit and prepare for publication, as time permits during the trip. You can expect a flurry of posts in the next three days or so before Salvageable falls silent for a time. God willing, I shall return.

Meanwhile, my family and I celebrate the gift and miracle of new life. J.

Double secret probation

When I contracted COVID last month, I was regulated to remain in quarantine (with family members who happened to have the same illness at the same time as me). The official government quarantine was ten days from when I first noticed symptoms; my workplace established a fourteen day quarantine. The Memorial Day weekend helped to close the gap between those two periods, and I was feeling better long before I was allowed to leave the house. I was able to devote some of my energy into my writing, which had been flagging lately. I also returned to work Wednesday of last week with new strength and energy to devote to my tasks in that arena.

The burst of hopeful energy did not last very long.

Waiting for me in my email was a statement about the company’s policy. This statement said that all employees not vaccinated for COVID must wear a mast at all times on company property. This replaces the pre-vaccine policy that had us masked when around other people but permitted to remove our masks when alone in our workspace. The policy states that one infraction leads to a written warning, a second infraction leads to a final warning, and a third infraction leads to immediate termination. The same policy also indicates that the company cannot demand that anyone receive the vaccine, nor that any employee can be shamed or bullied or singled out for not being vaccinated. But those who are vaccinated are free not to wear masks (or to wear them, if they so desire), while the rest of us must wear our masks or will lose our jobs. Not that we are being shamed or bullied or anything.

When I had been at work for an hour, I had a meeting with our Human Resources Director and with my manager. The HR director was very sweet and syrupy, as is her nature, and was also very firm that I had been naughty for getting sick and that I had better be aware of the company policy. In fact, that same afternoon, I received my written warning because I had arrived at work and been at my desk without a mask that same day.

I’ve known for a long time that my job was hanging by a thread. The powers that be already drastically reduced the budget for my department, forcing some people to be downsized out of a job and others who left not to be replaced. If anything, the virus crisis slowed the procedures that were aiming to cut us off the tree. Now, it appears, they see an opportunity to empty another chair, and I expect that I will be watched carefully for the slightest slip or mistake. It’s reached the point that I’m extra careful driving to work, as if a traffic infraction could terminate my position and have me searching for another job.

Of course I am searching for another job, but nothing has come of that yet.

What frustrates me the most is not the bullying and shaming, but the lack of science involved in this episode. Science has demonstrated that people who are sickened by viruses and recover gain immunity to those viruses. The entire point of vaccination is that people receive a mild form of the virus so their bodies create antibodies to immunize them against the virus. Vaccines are called “artificial active immunization,” but getting sick and recovering is simply “active immunization,” or sometimes (by contrast with vaccination) “natural active immunization.”

Some people argue that COVID hasn’t been studied long enough for scientists to know how long natural active immunization remains in effect. On the other hand, the medical professionals who interviewed me on the telephone said that I should not get the vaccine for at least three months because of possible complications involving the antibodies already produced in my body. Other studies have found that antibodies are still present in people who recovered from COVID ten or eleven months ago. A small number of people have been sickened a second time by COVID. A small number of people—but a larger proportion of the people in question—have been sickened by COVID after being vaccinated. Science indicates that I am less likely to deliver the virus to other people now that I have been sick and have recovered. But the politics and economics of medicine, along with the agenda of the people at charge at my workplace, are clearly bigger than the science I learned in school.

I hope to be able to find time and energy to keep my writing projects going. I hope to find another job before I get kicked out the door at my present workplace. All I can do at the moment is trust that the Lord has a plan for me, and that things will work out fine according to His schedule. J.

Recovery

Continuing to be quarantined after recovering from covid-19 resembles a long holiday weekend or a “staycation,” as they call it. I could only guess when symptoms began, so the end of the quarantine is also based on guesswork. As far as the CDC is concerned, I’m free to leave the house tomorrow; but my employer does not want me back at work until Wednesday. So the next few days will be a transition of sorts, feeling normal and doing some normal things, but not returning to the full routine yet for a few more days.

This time off has permitted me to do some additional reading and writing, as well as work around the house and yard. I have several other minor projects I hope to tackle over the next few days. In fact, this required holiday offers a glimpse into how I may budget my time when I retire. Retirement, though, is still years away. I expect to work full-time until I turn seventy for several reasons. First, Social Security is increasingly insecure because of an aging population. Second, my parents and grandparents all flourished well into their eighties. (My father is 93 and still in good health.) Third, I still expect to have talent and ideas to offer for years to come. Even when I retire, I will keep on writing, and I hope that my writing will continue to improve. I have no reason to stop working at this time.

On the other hand, facing anxiety and depression prepared me well for this covid business. I already learned how to get out of bed and get things done even when my mind and my body were saying no. I probably went to work on days I should have stayed home. But I can perform tasks adequately even when concentration and motivation are lacking. Taking it easy means diverting my energy to other activities. While the cats expect some of that time and energy to be given to them—they loved this quarantine the way they loved the whole-society quarantine a year ago—reading and writing and other stay-at-home tasks are always on the schedule, seven days a week, every week of the year.

Besides, healthy though I am, I always feel a bit off, and I find it easy to believe that I am battling some chronic disease. Lupus, Parkinson’s, Hypochondria, Crohn’s Disease: I can read the descriptions and match them to myself, but there’s always another part of my mind that brushes off the anxiety and keeps on ticking. This is why, the day after being tested positive for covid, I went out and mowed the lawn. A couple of people told me not to push it, but mowing is impossible with our machine without a fair amount of pushing. Afterward, I was able to tell people that I simply do not know the meaning of the word. When someone responds, “What word is that?” I am able to say, “I’m not sure what word, but if you said it, I wouldn’t know what it means.”

As long as I have several books at different stages of being written, I can focus on one of them and keep on writing or rewriting. I hope that, starting with this quarantine and continuing through the summer, I can break up the figurative raft of logs—the various books at different stages—and send them floating down the stream, one by one. J.

COVID report

For the past several days I have been home, diagnosed with covid, quarantined and barred from interacting face to face with the public. (But they haven’t banned me from the Internet yet!)

I repeatedly considered how much of my covid story I wanted to tell online. I am not alone—several family members are also affected—and when one of them mentioned all of us on Facebook, I (for one) was not pleased with the breach of privacy.

Let me just say, then, that several of us in the same family had the same symptoms around the same time. Some tested positive for covid. A couple tested negative. It’s possible that their test happened late enough that they had already recovered. None of us has a severe case. One of us was fully vaccinated, but that person tested positive and had the same symptoms, to the same degree, as the rest of us.

I started the month of May with a painful ear infection. I went to one of those streetside Urgent Care facilities, was diagnosed with an outer ear infection (sometimes called swimmer’s ear) and was given antibiotic drops to put in the ear. The pain went away, but I continued to feel as if the ear was blocked—a sense of fullness in that ear, and hearing loss in that ear. As a result, when I began to feel lightheaded and dizzy, with a loss of ability to concentrate, I thought the infection might have traveled to the inner ear. I was sick enough to call in sick for church on Sunday the 23rd and to call in sick for work on Monday the 24th. Since I also had a low fever that Sunday night, I thought it would be good to visit another Urgent Care facility on Monday. After a long wait, I was examined and was told that I had no ear infection, that my symptoms were probably due to TMJ—a disorder of the jaw joint that has nothing to do with infectious disease. With that diagnosis, I was sent home. They had not bothered to test me for covid.

Meanwhile, another family member with similar symptoms ended up at the emergency room because of low blood pressure. That was probably due to dehydration due to lack of appetite. But this family member also had pneumonia and had a rash from poison ivy. The hospital decided to run several tests (including checking for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever) and threw the covid test in as an afterthought. A positive result to that covid test brought me and others in for testing, and (as I say) I was one of the family members whose results came back as positive.

In other words, our several cases nearly went undetected and unreported. They could easily have been dismissed as seasonal allergies, ear infection, or a bad cold that made life hard for a few days and then left again. In fact, I have not felt terribly sick throughout this covid experience. I have been sicker before. I had shingles a few years ago, and that was ten times as bad. The biggest inconveniences from this covid experience have been the enforced quarantine at home and the long phone conversations with medical-data-gatherers who needed to interview each of us at length about when we got sick and where we had been and who else had been near us for any length of time.

My worst days of illnesses preceded my official diagnosis. In fact, the day after I was diagnosed with covid, I went out and mowed the lawn. Mowing usually takes an hour. Because I broke the job into segments and rested between segments, this mowing session lasted about two hours. But I haven’t been able to mow on schedule this spring because of all the rain, and I wanted to get the job done before the next rain and before the weather got hot. So Tuesday afternoon, while recovering from covid, I mowed.

Now that I have covid, I think I am entitled to an opinion about how the virus crisis has been handled over the past year-and-a-half. My opinion is this: those of us who were sick should be quarantined during the course of the illness. Vulnerable members of the population should be restricted for their own safety. Shutting down entire cities and countries was wrong. Trying to make everyone wear masks was wrong. Our governments, our news sources, and our opinion makers have exaggerated the importance of this sickness, and their overreaction has caused more harm than most of us were risking by living our normal lives during these past months.

Of course, I know that some people have died. I know that some have struggled with complications from the sickness. I am not belittling those facts. But we have paid too great a price for the overreaction to covid compared to the effects of the disease itself. I would rather have endured these same symptoms a year earlier and lived a normal life since—no mask requirements, no daily updates on how terrible this disease is, no concerted effort to change the way people vote so more votes could be funneled into the choice that a few activists preferred.

I already feel better, although I will not be allowed back at work for a few more days. Because I have not had the vaccination shots, I will be required to wear a mask at work for the foreseeable future, even though my endurance of the disease should provide a minimum of ninety days of immunity (and vaccination shots are not recommended for those of us who just had covid). Rules are rules, when they make sense and when they don’t. And I’m sure I will face some complaints from coworkers who feel that I put them at risk by not getting vaccinated when it was possible and by coming to work when I was in less than perfect health, even though I thought I had an ear infection and did not realize I had covid.

I am often one of the last people to do what everyone else has done. I was still using dial-up Internet service when everyone else had cable connections. I was still watching VHS tapes when everyone else had graduated from DVDs and was streaming. I may be one of the last to catch covid. I hope so; that could mean that this long national nightmare is over and that life will be allowed, finally, to return to normal. J.

Another dream

Sunday morning I woke from a dream in which I was working in a library. Not that dreaming about library work surprises me—I work for a library now, and my very first job years ago was working for a library. The library in my dream was unlike any library where I have worked, but it was not an odd or peculiar library. What made less sense was the matter of what my job involved in working for the library.

I did not seem to have any set tasks or responsibilities, although at one time I was gathering information for a researcher to use. Much of the dream involved walking around the library, using back staircases and passing through administrative areas, overhearing the gossip of various departments, but not really accomplishing anything of note. At one point I crossed paths with a group of business leaders who were on a tour of the library, but I had no responsibility to guide their tour. Whatever my job might have been, it did not seem to require me to stay in one place or to perform any task to completion.

The best part of the dream, though, came at the end. I walked into an open-air meeting area with tables and chairs in place. Seated at one of the tables, with two or three other men, was Richard Nixon. I sat at the next table, hoping I would have a chance to speak with him. The other men got up and left, and Mr. Nixon greeted me. I moved to sit at the same table across from him. He first asked me if I had lost some weight. (For years, in real life, it has been common for people who know me and haven’t seen me for a while to remark that I seem to have lost weight. In fact, my weight has been surprisingly constant over a number of years. Evidently, people remember me as heavier than I really am. And those thoughts, true to the real world, went through my mind in the dream.) He asked how I was doing, and I asked him the same, and then he asked how my family was doing—all routine conversation, nothing that indicated that he had any interest in me or anything I might have to say.

But—and this is the most interesting aspect of this dream—without acknowledging to myself that I was dreaming, I was aware that this Richard Nixon was not simply Richard Nixon, but was Nixon from a particular time in his life. Before I could say much more to him, I needed to know where he was on his personal timeline. So I asked him about his family, trying to make it clear that I had a genuine interest, not mere courtesy. His first remark was to say that David had just turned twenty. In the dream, I knew instantly that he meant David Eisenhower, who would marry Julie Nixon. (David was not only the son-in-law of President Nixon but also the grandson of President Eisenhower.) If he had just turned twenty, I calculated, David had not yet married Julie, even though they must be engaged if Mr. Nixon was counting him as family. I gathered, therefore, that the Nixon I was addressing was Richard Nixon of the late 1960s, a Richard Nixon who had not yet been elected President.

I must have awoken at that point, because I don’t remember what I said to Richard Nixon once I knew the year he was experiencing. Later in the day, though, I did my research and learned that David Eisenhower was born March 31, 1948. If he had just turned twenty, then Mr. Nixon and I were in the spring of 1968. Nixon had announced that he was running for President and had won the Republican primary in New Hampshire, but he still faced serious rivals for the nomination: George Romney, Nelson Rockefeller, and Ronald Reagan. President Johnson had already announced that he was not seeking reelection, and the Democratic nomination was being sought by Senators Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy, by Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and others.

What might I have said to Richard Nixon that spring? I knew that he would receive the nomination and would win the election. I knew what challenges would face him as President. I could foretell his accomplishments and his disappointments. What would I have told him about the years to come? What promises might I have offered? What warnings might I have spoken? What things might have changed if Mr. Nixon and I could have spoken in the spring of 1968, given everything I know about his years in the White House?

I will never be able to answer those questions. More to the point, why would I dream about an opportunity to talk with Richard Nixon? Why would my dream mind have chosen that very time in his career for us to meet? Is part of my mind hoping that, like Nixon in 1968, I am about to enter the most important time in my life and career? If so, what doors might open for me in the coming months? How might I finally reach my potential and be of benefit to others? And what advice would President Nixon have to offer me this spring if we could meet and visit today? J.

History and sources

As a history instructor, naturally I explained to my students the meaning and significance of primary, secondary, and tertiary sources.

Primary sources come from people who were there, those who took part in the event or who were witnesses of the event. Memoirs and autobiographies are, of course, primary sources. So are diaries, letters, oral histories, photographs, recordings, and receipts. Primary sources do not have to contain words: artwork and architecture can be primary sources, as well as tools, weapons, clothing, and other artifacts. Garbage is a great source of primary sources. (Imagine how much an investigator could learn about your family by examining your garbage from the last month!) Dead bodies and the artifacts buried with them are also great primary sources, although contemporary historians and archaeologists are showing greater respect for burials than was the case in previous centuries.

Secondary sources collect data from the primary sources, examine them, and draw conclusions from them. A soldier writes about sights and sounds on the battlefield, while a politician writes about decisions made in the halls of government; the author of a secondary source combines those perceptions to produce a fuller account of the war than either primary source could create. Secondary sources should contain notes and bibliographies listing those primary sources they used to form their interpretations, as well as which secondary sources were consulted to help the writers interpret those primary sources.

Newspapers, magazines, and web sites can be a mixture of primary and secondary source material. When a reporter quotes a participant or witness, that quote is a primary source; the rest of the article which describes and explains the event is a secondary source. Even those secondary sources become primary sources for the historian who wants to know how events were understood at the time, before historians began writing about an event and trying to understand and explain what happened, why it happened, and what it means for people today.

Tertiary sources summarize what the secondary sources say. Encyclopedia articles (whether in print or online) are tertiary sources; so are textbooks. Student papers are tertiary sources. If a student only looked at the textbook and an encyclopedia or two and then wrote a paper, that paper would be a quaternary source, which is effectively useless. Junior high and early high school students might get away with that approach, but by college a writer should know how to read, evaluate, and summarize information from primary and secondary sources. The best uses of a tertiary source at that level of education are to get a general idea of what people are saying about the event and to consult the bibliography to find good secondary sources for research.

At this point, I ask the students if they agree with the statement that, “the more sources you have, the more likely you are to reach a firm conclusion about the event.” At first that proposition sounds reasonable, but too much information can be worse than not enough. Think of the assassination of President Kennedy. We have many primary sources—hundreds of witnesses who saw and heard the shooting, the doctors in Dallas who treated the President and declared him dead, the doctors in Washington who performed the autopsy, photographs, moving pictures, a bullet, bullet fragments, the President’s clothing, the car, and much much more. So many secondary sources have assembled interpretations of the event that probably no person can read and watch them all. Yet massive disagreement persists about what happened in Dallas that day. With so much information, researchers can choose those items and reports that match their theories while disregarding or dismissing contrary items and reports.

(Actually, good research affirms that the President was shot from behind. Analysis of the shirt and tie he was wearing confirm that the neck wound was an exit wound, not an entrance wound—as the Dallas doctors first thought and said. Still pictures taken from the Zapruder film clearly show the aftermath of the fatal head would exiting toward the front, indicating that the bullet struck him from the rear. Researchers who insist that other evidence indicates that shots were fired at the President from in front of the car must then explain how it was that those shooters missed their target—something I have not seen addressed in secondary sources.)

I have seen many sloppy works written by authors who deliberately skipped sources that did not agree with their preestablished conclusions, authors who misquoted and distorted their sources, and authors who relied on emotional persuasion rather than solid academic research to state their cases. These sloppy works are not limited to college students; they include professional historians, even some respected academic writers, who were more interested in publishing the conclusions they wanted to share than in being persuaded by the evidence of the sources that they were wrong. As I said before, historians have an obligation to be honest and fair with their information. The reputations of people from the past and the effective thinking of people in the future is in the hands of today’s historians. For this reason, I am very concerned about the way history is being taught in many classrooms today, and I am sorry that my voice is no longer among those being heard in those classrooms. J.

Teaching history

I miss being in the classroom. The COVID crisis helped the school for which I taught hasten its transfer from classroom teaching to online teaching. They had already been pushing that direction for some time. I took the training sessions but did not offer to teach online. The students who enrolled in my classes preferred to learn in the classroom. But when the campus was closed, the conversion to online teaching forced me to take a break in my college career. Now, I suspect, the break has become a permanent retirement.

My classroom was on a military base, although the school responsible for the classes is a state institution. Many of my students were active military personnel; others were family of active personnel, retired military personnel, and people from the community who enrolled through the state school. I had a few students older than me, while I also had students still in high school earning their first college credits.

I taught history. Occasionally I taught a class in world religions or in introduction to philosophy, but mostly I taught the survey history classes: World History to 1650 and World History since 1650. The year 1650 was arbitrarily chosen; it was the middle of the textbook. Even when the school faculty changed textbooks and the new textbook split around 1500, they didn’t bother to change the name of the classes. Sometimes I would challenge students to guess why the class either began or ended with 1650. I heard some good suggestions about the Industrial Revolution, the Age of European Exploration and Colonization, and other landmarks that might have happened around 1650; students groaned when I told them that the only reason the year was chosen was that it was the middle of the book. But I then made the point that we have as much information to study and learn about the past 370 years as we have for the thousands of years that preceded 1650.

Some of my student signed up for the class because they love history. Others took it only because they were required to have one class in history. I managed to benefit the entire range of students. People who think they hate history, more often than not, had history ruined for them by a bad teacher, one who forced them to memorize names and places and dates, to focus on trivia that is easily found online. I focused on teaching the bigger themes of history, giving students a reason to seek the details online. A survey class cannot spend time on details. Taking a survey class in history is like running through a buffet restaurant—one sees and smells some of the food available, and one can return later to sample the dishes that seemed most appealing. I had the students write some “compare and contrast” essays to force them into a bit of focused research: What similarities and differences can one find studying Napoleon and Hitler? What similarities and differences can one find studying Socrates and Confucius? I gave them choices so they could focus on topics most interesting to them (and so I wouldn’t have to read a dozen versions of the same essay). But mostly I invited them to see the vast themes of human history on this planet. We discussed migrations, wars, economic trade, and the spread of ideas. We talked about significant developments in technology, artistic expression, and philosophy. We analyzed the significance of geographic features, climate change at various times in history, foods, and diseases. At times we debated similarities and connections between past happenings and current events.

The first night we met was always exciting, and also a bit stressful, even anxiety-inducing. They would find out what kind of instructor I aimed to be and how their work as students would be evaluated; I measured how willing they would be to discuss ideas in the classroom and to share experiences that related to our lessons. For example, when we talked about the beliefs and practices of Muslims, some of my students were able to describe things they had seen in Muslim countries. One of the joys of teaching college is the presence of students who have learned things I haven’t learned or who have had experiences I haven’t had. I always invited them to share what they knew with the rest of us.

I also invited them to challenge interpretations of history, even those that were presented on the quizzes. I wanted them to see that history is more that memorizing a list of data; history is sorting the data, connecting the data, and interpreting the data. Historians sort through information, seeking understandings of what happened, why it happened, and what it caused to happen. Historians are allowed to disagree with one another. Sometimes I disagreed with the textbook. Students were allowed and invited to disagree with me—not to earn an extra point on a quiz, but to help all of us learn more about history. If they stated their case well, using valid information from the textbook or other sources, I gave them the point. If they were merely quibbling, I held to the point, defending it and showing how historians work to gather and share their understanding of history.

Near the end of the first night’s discussion, I told the class about President Nixon. In August 1974, Nixon resigned from the office of President—he is the only U.S. President to resign. The Watergate scandal that produced that resignation is complicated, and I did not describe it that first night. But I explained how distraught, discouraged, and depressed he was having to leave that important job that he had fought so much to gain and to hold. I then told the students how Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had tried to comfort the President by saying that history would remember him more kindly than his contemporaries. I also quoted Nixon’s response to those words, as he said, “That depends upon who writes the histories.”

I pointed out to the students that, by enrolling in that class, they had become historians. They were taking on responsibility—they would help to write the histories. They owed it to their subjects, and to those who would read their work, to be accurate and fair. They would need to do thorough research, to think clearly and deeply about the information they had studied, and to communicate their conclusions effectively, convincingly, and honestly.

I would like to believe that, over the years, I have helped to shape a few good historians. I miss being in the classroom. J.

Remembrance of opportunities lost

We all carry regrets from the past. What we cannot fix, we try to forget. Sometimes, though, the memories linger for a while; they refuse to be lost in the mists of time now expired.

I remember a college cheerleader—I’ll call her Lori. One summer she and I were among the first students to return to campus for the new school year. We first crossed paths at an all-campus party for returning students. I happened across this party by accident and remained at the edge, not wanting to be surrounded by the crowd. Somehow, Lori and I noticed each other and began a conversation. The conversation continued back at my dorm room. (Nothing else happened; we merely talked.) She encouraged me to attend a scrimmage the school’s football team was holding the next day. Because of her invitation, I went to the scrimmage. It seemed odd to me—the team was recreating the closing minutes of the game they had lost to our biggest rival at the end of last season. They were experimenting to see what might have happened with our new quarterback in charge of the offense’s final drive in the place of last year’s quarterback. The scrimmage was designed to turn into a pep rally (celebrating the win that might have happened but didn’t); the pep rally included a meal, and Lori asked me to attend, but I declined. I wanted to get back to my room and finish unpacking, and I wanted to see if my roommate and other friends had arrived. Although some of my roommate’s possessions were in the room, he was not around when I returned, but a couple of other friends were there. While we visited, Lori dropped in again. I meant to introduce her to my friends, but somehow—in the confusion of the moment—introductions were not made. Instead, I pulled out a wooden box I had made that summer. Picturing it in my hands today, it would have made a nice cage for a cricket or other large insect. One of my friends asked if it was made from toothpicks, and I answered no, that it was made from splinters pulled off an old railroad tie. I did not say this, but I was thinking that no cheerleaders had been around to encourage my work on this piece of art. It seems that somehow Lori read my mind, because she suddenly ran out of the room, sobbing. At that instant, I was torn—I wanted to go to her, to comfort her, to have her come back so I could introduce her to my friends and make her part of the group. At the same time, I was reluctant to leave my friends for her, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to say to her. Before I could resolve the dilemma, I awoke.

Yes, this was all a dream and Lori, like the wooden art project, was only a creation of my dream mind. She didn’t even have a name in the dream; she was only “the cheerleader.” But the regret I felt was real. I appreciated our brief friendship, I wanted that friendship to continue to grow, and I hated the knowledge that I had hurt her feelings, even if it was only in my thoughts and in my dream.

I didn’t mention the earlier parts of the dream in which I visited a classroom where I had earlier taught a class, spoke with some of the students in that classroom, watched the new professor hand out candy and pizza to the students, then left and tried (but failed) to find my car in the parking lot, all of which led to the party where I met the cheerleader. I’ve been having (and remembering) a lot of dreams this year that are like this dream—vivid, filled with related happenings as well as people and places, and often shaping my feelings for the entire day following the dream. These dreams may be due, at least partly, to medications I am taking, but they obviously come from my own mind. I dream about people I remember—family and friends and coworkers, including some who have died, others who I haven’t seem for years, and some I still see nearly every day. At times the dreams are so vivid and realistic that I confuse them for memories of actual events or scenes from movies I’ve recently watched. (Did I recently see a deer, dream about a deer, or watch a movie that included a deer. That’s right—the deer was in last night’s movie.) In no way do I consider my dreams to be messages from God or predictions of the future. Dreams are mental problem-solving devices, managing hopes and fears, often in symbolic ways. But I still feel bad about upsetting Lori. If I could, I would let her know that I am sorry and that I still want us to be friends. J.

Long hair and Lynda

I have not had a haircut since December. Usually I get a summer cut in May—get my hair off my neck and away from my ears and generally short enough to be comfortable in the summer heat. But everything was closed in May. Even now, in the last days of July, I haven’t bothered to try to schedule a haircut. Most men around me have had their hair shortened this summer. I don’t know how many made appointments with professionals and how many are sporting a home cut. I may try for a home cut this weekend. Time will tell.

My hair is probably longer now than it ever has been. This week I tried to see if that is the case, looking back in high school and college yearbooks. There may have been a time during my second year of college when my hair was almost as long is it is now. It’s hard to say, but I think my hair is longer now.

Finding my portrait among my high school classmates, I happened to notice Lynda’s portrait. We have the same last initial (or did when we were in high school), so of course our portraits were on the same page. We also sat near each other for freshman math class—for the same reason, because the math teacher assigned us desks in alphabetical order. I remember noticing Lynda in that freshman math class—in fact, I noticed Lynda many times during the four years we were in high school. We never dated. We never had any long meaningful conversation. If she sensed that I liked her, I gather she didn’t feel the same about me. Nor did she ever make a point of telling me that she didn’t like me. We were just part of the scenery for each other during those difficult adolescent years of secondary education.

Having seen and noticed, Lynda’s high school picture, my mind added her to a dream last week. In fact, I remember part of that dream in which I was introducing her to my parents and other family members. Usually my mind works the other direction—it pops a person from the past into a dream, someone I haven’t thought about in years, and then that person remains on my mind for the next several days. This time, at least I have a reason to have dreamed about a long-lost acquaintance. But, after that brief glance at one photograph, followed by a dream, I have been thinking more about Lynda and about high school in general.

Last night I pulled out my high school yearbook for senior year and looking up pictures of Lynda. (I hadn’t bothered looking at that volume earlier, because I knew my hair was shorter senior year than earlier in high school.) I saw photographs and Lynda and me in the National Honor Society. I saw photographs of Lynda working on the school newspaper. I saw Lynda’s senior portrait and other graduation pictures. Many years have passed since I’ve seen Lynda, but her high school pictures remain unchanged.

One of the novels I have considered writing at times over the past twenty years would be set at a high school reunion. The main character and his wife would find themselves seated at a table with another man who looked much like the main character and also had the same name. But the main character and his doppelganger would have taken different paths in high school, gone to different colleges, followed different careers, and would have married different women and raised different families. This novel idea is loosely based on my own experiences—specifically a choice I made my sophomore year of high school when I did not have enough time to work for the student newspaper and also take part in the spring musical production.

Even though I wanted then to be a writer, I chose to abandon the newspaper and stay with the musical production. That, perhaps, has made all the difference. Most of my enduring friendships from high school have been with people involved in the spring musical productions. My writing career has largely been limited by other professional obligations. Many things in my life might have turned out very differently if I had stayed with the newspaper and dropped the musical. One of those things is that Lynda and I might have become close friends… might have dated… might have stayed in touch after high school graduation, maybe even attended the same college… might have gotten married. The list of possibilities is endless.

I never featured Lynda in any short stories. I never wrote a song for her. Aside from yearbooks, I haven’t kept a picture of her. And, unlike other schoolmates I have remembered and researched, I cannot find Lynda on the Internet. I’ve searched her name in various ways, and the most I have found is the same yearbook photographs I already have.

It could be a great work of fiction, though. What if, somewhere out there, Lynda has suddenly started remembering me and thinking about me? What if she wonders what ever happened to me and what I have accomplished since high school? If the two of us could time-travel and communicate with those awkward teen selves, what changes (if any) might we recommend to them? And, after all this time, what difference, at this point, does it make? J.