Respect + Self-Respect

The Word of the Day Prompt this morning was RESPECT.

To me this is such an inspiring, healthy, upbeat word that I want to write something about it before my day is done.

I was thinking about a fellow Canadian we have a lot of respect for: journalist and author Conrad Black. When he writes, his articles are informative and what my husband and I consider to be a fair and sensible take on his subjects.

This evening, however, I’m thinking of one particular aspect of his life: the experiences he had during the time he was an inmate in one of Uncle Sam’s jails.

A bit of background:
Conrad Black once owned a chain of newspapers in Canada, some in the US, with shares in the Telegraph group in England and a couple of newspapers in Australia. He was living and working in the States when he was arrested and according to Google, “convicted in July 2007 on three counts of mail and wire fraud and one count of obstruction of justice”
Mr Black spent 29 months in a Florida prison before being granted bail. When his case came before the Supreme Court, the Court declared the statute under which he was convicted to be unconstitutional. Charges against him were dismissed and he returned to Canada. However, the case against him is not relevant to the direction of this post.

So what does a journalist do when he’s incarcerated? He writes about it, naturally. I read several articles he wrote while he was in prison, and one in particular has stayed with me. That’s where I want to go with this post.

While he was in prison, he just didn’t sit around writing articles. He spend a fair bit of his time teaching other prisoners to read and write — and in giving an education, he got an education. In interacting with the other prisoners, he got a better picture of the workings of the US justice system. In particular, how it works for poor, illiterate men.

Needless to say, he didn’t come away with a high regard for the education system where so many underprivileged children fall through the cracks. This isn’t always the fault of the schools; sometimes there’s just no encouragement from home — no home even. But it’s sad to see that North American schools have been abandoning the basics in favor of the fluff and passing on those who really need help. Illiteracy among Canadians born and raised and schooled here is shocking.

Mr Black, after listening to his fellow inmates, concluded that if you haven’t got the smarts to defend yourself in a court of law, your chances of being convicted are definitely higher. I’ve read a few stories about poor illiterate blacks who barely understood the proceedings being falsely convicted, especially in the South. I don’t think this is so very rare.

He also wrote that if you haven’t got a basic education so you can get a job and earn a decent wage, your chances of ending up in jail are a lot higher. And re-offending. No news there.

Which comes back to my point about respect. Respect for others comes from learning about them as real people. Self-respect, the ability to stand up and face the world, to get ahead, comes from learning, too. It’s pretty hard to keep your head above water if you don’t have a solid rock to stand on. Like basic “Readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic.”

I’ve seen this. I’ve a cousin who can’t read her bank statement or a business letter, and couldn’t begin to understand this post. Medical issues are total confusion. When her purse was stolen she didn’t report it because she’s scared of dealing with the police, in case they ask her questions she can’t understand. Lack of remedial classes and a poor home combined to hinder her schooling.

I respect Mr Black for his efforts to work with these men and to give them the basics — and the self-respect — they’d need to build a life outside the prison walls. And I respect and applaud all the folks out there who have taken the time to teach, to mentor, to work with, folks who need a helping hand. They are a mighty army, working unseen.

Which brings me to my friend Margaret’s poem. I’m using it with the confidence that if my dear friend were alive, she’d give her permission. She and her husband Milton were just such people as she describes here.

Quiet Folk
by Margaret Penner Toews

Some folks there are who, quiet, go about
Unseen, unheard, unknown
sowing kernels
digging wells
building bridges
picking stones
raising altars

…planting poignant thoughts in ordinary talk about His Presence,
…dig, and leave no signature, while others draw and drink,
…building bridges over chasms, deeply cut by hate and color, creed and prejudice
…removing stumbling stones of cruelty, indifference and scorn along the road, so those who walk in darkness will not fall
…erecting altars by their hearths, in secret closets, or on busy thoroughfares.

Quietly these folks ‘deliver cities’ (Ecclesiastes 9:14-15)
but no one knows
and no one will remember…
(most certainly not they themselves)

…Except for God…and He will never be a debtor.
He takes a leisurely eternity to give rewards.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
From her book, First A Fire
© 1993 by Margaret Penner Toews
Available from PrairieView Press

Baby Bird Shuffle

One Boy’s Efforts to Correct Nature’s Shortcomings

Finding herself an impoverished widow at the beginning of the Great Depression, Maida (Parlow) Knowles moved back to the old homestead her grandparents had established on the banks of the St Lawrence River. This abandoned farm had a large apple orchard, but the trees had been neglected for years. Rather than living in a seedy, cockroach-infested apartment and leaving her three young sons to roam the streets of Toronto while she tried to hold down a job, she wanted to bring the orchard back into production and earn a living for herself and her boys.

Having lived all their lives in the city, however, she and her three sons were having quite the learning experience getting their run-down farmhouse fixed up, and the apple orchard ready. When they arrived at the farm, she was appalled to see the house’s back porch and its roof lying on the ground. She was also dismayed, those first few nights, to lie in bed and see the stars through the holes in her roof.

One day during that first summer, she was outside picking up some of the porch roof shingles that were scattered. They made great kindling for the old wood stove, on which she was learning to cook their food. Suddenly she heard loud, angry voices and her three sons came along, the oldest two dragging five-year-old Alan by the arms.

“You’ll never guess what he did now, Mom!” The older boys glared in righteous indignation at the tearful transgressor. “He got into the birds’ nests in the apple trees and moved all the eggs and the baby birds around. They’re so mixed up now their poor mothers will never find them!”

“Yeah. Whatever is God thinking about the awful thing you did, Alan Knowles?”

She felt an urge to laugh at the very idea, but stifled it. This was, after all, a major crime to the two oldest boys. The accused hung his head and made no defence. (He told his mother later that he hadn’t dared to explain with his two big brothers screeching and glaring at him so furiously. They weren’t going to listen to a word he said, anyway.)

To defuse the issue a bit she told him he’d best go and tend to the cats so they wouldn’t find out about the confusion in the orchard before the baby birds learned to fly. Happy with his light sentence, he dried his tears and hurried off to the shed where their new cat family lived.

Looking back some years later, he explained to his mother the reason for his actions that day. “I’d been watching the birds coming and going to their nests and I noticed that some mother birds didn’t leave their nests for long; they seemed to grab some food and come back quickly. Others stayed away a lot longer. I was afraid the eggs and babies would get cold when their mothers were gone so long, so I just moved the eggs and baby birds to the nests where the mothers came back sooner, because I thought they’d be better looked after.”

It made perfect sense to him at the time. ☺

This was one of the accounts Maida recorded in the diary she kept during those first years and later published as her memoir: Apples Don’t Just Grow by Maida Parlow (Knowles) French
© 1954 by McClelland & Stewart Ltd

The Typhoon

omiri-gate-story.jpg
Photo by Nicki Elisha Shinow

The storm lasted four days. At first the rain poured down in buckets, later it sounded like the whole heavens was pouring down on the surrounding mountains. Villagers huddled together all through the typhoon, covering their possessions as best they could, praying they wouldn’t be washed or blown away.

The oldest of the elders remembered a deluge like this back in their youth. They recalled the year of hunger and poverty after. But most of the people living in the area had never seen such a storm. They wept to see their precious soil washing down the mountain. The small plateaus that sustained them were sliding into the lake down in the valley. Where would they plant their crops?

It would take many months to haul earth back up the mountain in baskets. The elders nodded. It would be so.

Finally the storm passed. All over the mountain folks shook off their stupor and wandered out to survey the damage. So much had been lost! They were shocked to see how the lake had swallowed up so much of the valley below. Even the Omiri gate stood in water.

They shook their heads. This would bring hardship. Every summer visitors came in droves to stand in this gate where the great prophet had once stood and shared his wisdom with his disciples. The locals had always welcomed the pilgrims. Their coming brought much income to the surrounding villages that hosted and supplied them.

Some despairing, some tearful, the people made their way back to their homes. They could see the churning clouds of hunger on the horizon.

The elders nodded. It would be so.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Story written in response to today’s The Write Practice exercise. Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com, a site for free images.

The Partnership

Many years ago a husband and father died, leaving his wife the burden of raising their six children. How could she face the challenge of financial as well as parenting responsibilities?

Placing her dilemma in God’s hands, she carried on, not only parenting their children but adopting twelve others along the way and raising them all to be decent people and good citizens. Someone asked her one day how she managed to keep it all together. She always always appeared so relaxed in spite of her busy life, surviving on a “bare necessities” budget.

“Oh, I’m in a partnership,” she told the questioner. “That keeps me going.”

“Oh, really? What kind of partnership and with who?”

“After my husband died I told the Lord that I’d do the work and He could do the worrying. I haven’t had a worry since.”

Do you have a partnership like that?

I’ve retold this story from one I read in an Our Daily Bread devotional booklet from the ’70s.