Sunday, August 19, 2007

Faith Works 8-25-07
Jeff Gill

Look Out, He’s Gonna Rant

There’s tradition, there’s the law, and then there’s being a decent human being.

I’ll admit any one of the three can be a challenge, and to combine all three calls for a saint. Of which I am a poor example. But.

Last week, I was part of a funeral procession. It was for a grand woman who lived a long life, but sadly only eight years after finishing her college degree. She served this community in more ways than a column could count.

As is usually the case, when the pallbearers had carried her casket to the coach, we all pulled out onto Main Street in procession, lights and blinkers on, with little flags on each vehicle.

Did I mention there was a funeral coach with a casket at the front of the line? Of course I did.

We drove a long stretch of Main Street through town, and up nearly the length of 21st St., and a good bit of Rt. 13.

For all of you who pulled over to the side of the road and stopped, or even just slowed down as you could, edging far aside out of courtesy and respect, I want you to know something. The family and friends of this woman noticed your act, and they appreciated all of you, each one. It was a simple act of kindness that took so little time from your day, but meant a great deal to many of us.

And those who did so were both young and old, hot cars with cool decals, land yachts with bobble head dogs in the back window. Young men with dramatic tattooing noticeable from fifty feet away, and women with two kids in car seats gazing uncomprehendingly out of their minivan. Very little drew all those together, the very large number who showed courtesy to this funeral procession, other than basic human decency.

Then there were a few whom I would like to address, even as I doubt that they read, outside of the words “Open Here” on snack foods and packs of cigs.

Just how indifferent to sorrow and honor do you have to be to pass, on the right, a funeral procession, jouncing along the gravel, in order to turn into a fast food establishment?

What kind of callousness do you evince in your everyday life to force your way through a line of cars with – did I mention? – a casket carried in the hearse just ahead?

Need I mention that these so-called fellow citizens were also spread around the age and income distribution; young and old, wealthy retiree and redneck road warrior. The sourballs came in all flavors.

We who claim faith as a value in our lives may still find idle superstition a cruel handicap. Broken mirrors and Friday the 13th should carry no terrors for anyone who has a coherent belief system.

But do you, who leap out into traffic around dozens of your fellows who have, in fact, pulled over for a funeral, speeding past the hearse and mourners, not have any sense of bad luck, of karma, of big juju, of cosmic paybacks?

What the law says about all this I’ve heard described variously, and the solution to what I’m calling a problem is not more police writing tickets. There may well be no actual violation of the law in some of the shenanigans I saw, and I don’t care. What you need to know when you see a recently deceased person and their family coming at you is “whoa, whoever they are, let’s slow down, pause, stop if we can, take off our hats (I saw guys in cars do that, in fact) or turn on our lights, and remember if only for a moment that this life is fleeting.” For this, there is no law.

What might come in handy, and since I’m thinking insensitive idiots probably don’t read the paper, is if we all agree to start some rumors. If people got the idea that zooming past or weaving through a funeral procession was bad luck; if drivers had heard that passing the hearse on the right meant seven years of never even winning a scratch-off again; if young women thought they’d break out in pimples if they crossed the middle of a line of mourners; if old men got the idea that ignoring other cars in their lane pulling over would lead to their losing their license by going blind . . . that kind of thing just might work.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s seen pretty much everything go on around a funeral procession, but see if you can surprise him at
Notes From My Knapsack 8-26-07
Jeff Gill

School Lists For School Boards

Everyone is running about with school lists finishing their allocation of required and recommended stuff for the kids.

I’ve got a little list for those getting ready to start a new school year who are learning from the challenging venue of an elected school board seat.

Before I launch off on some unasked for advice, someone might ask why I don’t run myself if I think I’m so clever as to offer suggestions to those who do.

The fact of the matter is that I seriously thought about it, but one of my multitudinous part-time jobs legally prevents me from being on a school board. C’est la vie.

First item on the list, as important to modern schools as pencils to a grade schooler, is transportation. Has anyone for your district run the numbers to see what your budget looks like if gas is $5 a gallon in a couple years?

There are some “peak oil” apocalyptics out there who give careful thought about energy policy, in my opinion, a bad name, saying that we’re a decade away from hemp sandals and living off market gardens with all our cars now tireless, rusted hulks, supporting tomato vines. This is a bit much, though that alternative future would bring general acceptance of shooting (and eating) deer, I’d think.

What is even more certain than global warming is the fact that we are running out of cheap, easily accessible oil. We’ll have enough, even for China, but not cheaply. And as demand increases (n.b. China), supply will become dearer, meaning . . .

If your school district’s budget forecasts assume $2.50 or at most $3 a gallon gas, there may be a big hole in your assumptions. Will it happen for sure? As the song goes, “don’t know where, don’t know when,” but the day is coming soon. I’d want a contingency plan, myself.

Second list item check-off: sports. Great thing, sport, “playing fields of Eton” and all that. More the merrier. What I’d just want to ask about whenever the big ticket, equipment and facility intensive sports come up, is how we’re thinking about “life-long learning.”

Y’see, life-long learning tends to get seen as a books and reading and maybe language and travel sort of thing. But with some major high school reunion activity around our family recently, I’ve noticed that most of the choir and drama and intermural friends of our youth are still fairly fit and active, while many (maybe a majority) of the letter-winner big team sports folk are, um, not so fit. Kinda, uh, unhealthy. They haven’t played (insert sport name here) since their senior year, nor any other sport by the evidence at hand. Are we maintaining access, for all students, to some form of physical activity they could continue into late middle age?

Which goes along with the third thing, already snuck in above: the arts. Lively arts, graphic arts, musical arts, art for art’s sake. Art is one of the ultimate life-long learning skills you can pick up in school – I still use the basic sketching skills of perspective and dimension I learned from a fourth grade art teacher. Right, I know, “No Test Left Behind” doesn’t reward education in the arts, unless you can tie it to math and reading scores. Does this mean an effective local board of education might need to support and affirm community arts programs outside of the “legal” school day? “Cuz they can say what they want in Washington, but art is part of education.

Fourth on this short list, last but not least, ties back to number one, really. Food. A universal subject if ever there was one.
But also a local subject. What our kids eat has quite a bit to do with how their brains work (you are what you eat, quite literally). Where it comes from can affect how you live, too. Allergies and general well-being connect to how well connected we are to where we live.

When fuel and transportation costs go up, so will the price of vegetables from Peru and fruit from New Zealand. Locally grown foods will start making sense, again, for reasons both practical and fiscal.

I’ll admit a small personal tinge in this overly idealistic suggestion. My dad just sent me a clipping from his Iowa hometown paper, one of those “Fifty years ago this week” features.

It seems that the paper had a front page story at the end of the summer in 1957 that Mrs. Gill, the head of the cafeteria operation, was organizing her annual canning party at the high school kitchen. Dozens of community gardens’ produce were put up for the use of Mrs. Gill and her staff right through the fall and coming winter.

Someone will no doubt clue me in on how many different county, state, and federal regulations keep you from doing that today. Of course.

What if we called it a social studies activity, preserving vanishing culinary practices and maintaining cultural traditions?

Well, it’s all free advice.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s proud of his grandmother the lunch lady. Offer your lists to him at