Seymour's Purple Mind

Friday, November 04, 2005

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Wisdom of Human Forgiveness

Sometime last spring, I noticed that Archbishop Desmond Tutu had been scheduled to speak in Greensboro as part of Guilford College's Bryan Series.

I noticed the date he had been scheduled to speak coincided with the 26th anniversary of one of Greensboro's darkest moments, the deadly confrontation that occurred on November 3, 1979 when Klansmen and Nazis showed up at a "Death to the Klan" rally organized by the Communist Workers Party.

Even more interesting was that the primary topic of Tutu's address was to be South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which Tutu co-chaired with South African President Nelson Mandela.

What struck me as interesting and made me wonder if the scheduling was coincidental or not was that a Truth and Reconciliation Commission had been formed in Greensboro to take a deeper look at what had occurred in Greensboro on that fateful day when I was only 7 years old.

I never followed up on securing tickets for the event, and with the busy season of teaching, it honestly had gotten tucked away in the back of my mind.

The day before Tutu was scheduled to speak, I received a reminder of the event.

jw, a fellow blogger, e-mailed me with an offer of a ticket she would be unable to use.

I immediately e-mailed her back to let her know I was definitely interested in the ticket she offered.

jw even made a special trip to make the ticket available for me. (Thank you, jw!)

I first heard of Desmond Tutu from Ms. Gloria Turlington, my seventh-grade social studies teacher at Allen Junior High School (now Allen Middle School), during the 1984-85 school year.

Social studies that year focused on Africa and Asia. Desmond Tutu had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and Ms. Turlington made sure we learned who Tutu was.

I don't know if I gained a clear understanding of South Africa's system of apartheid that year, but over time, I would gain knowledge of that modern-day system of white oppression against South Africa's blacks.

(Ms. Turlington was also my eighth-grade social studies teacher, and from her, I also gained knowledge of the Greensboro Sit-Ins and the Klan-Nazi's deadly confrontation with the Communist Workers Party. Thank you, Ms. Turlington!)

Tutu was an outstanding speaker.

It's amazing to realize that South Africa is now in its 11th year as a democratic society, with apartheid now a part of its past.

Modestly dressed, Tutu's power came through his words.

Hearing him speak, you understood completely why he deserves recognition as one of our world's great leaders.

At about 8:19 PM, after a brief film about Guilford College and introductory remarks by Joan Siefert Rose (general manager of North Carolina Public Radio-WUNC) and Kent Chabotar (Guilford College's president and professor of political science), Tutu stepped to the microphone and began his address.

I don't think I was alone in being fully mesmerized by the beautiful power of his words and thoughts.

At the heart of his message was the profound concept of human forgiveness.

Black South Africans, like black Americans, have every reason not to forgive their oppressors. That they have done so is remarkable. Forgiveness never comes easily, and it often goes against our basic instincts.

Tutu actually began by requesting a moment of silence in tribute to a great American who recently passed away, Rosa Parks.

His next remarks brought laughter as Tutu told of dining in a restaurant and having a waiter notice his strange accent. The waiter asked Tutu if he was American. The waiter then asked, "Are you a famous singer or something?" Tutu told us, "I thought that was good for the soul," inspiring laughter from his captive audience.

He called it a privilege to come to our city, the first in our own nation to explore a truth and reconciliation effort.

Tutu recounted how some expected a race war in South Africa when apartheid was toppled.

Surely, black South Africans would desire revenge--perhaps in the form of violence--against the white South Africans who had treated its black countrymen with such thorough brutality and oppression.

Tutu argued that there was no doubt that the victory over apartheid would occur. In our modern universe, he said, there is no way that evil and injustice can have the last word. (I hope he is always ultimately correct in this view.)

Tutu praised the international community that protested on behalf of black South Africans against apartheid. He acknowledged American college students and others around the world for helping to change the moral climate in his own country.

Tutu said that it was fantastic to be able to say that black South Africans used to come asking for help and received support from abroad so that they are now free.

He pointed out how the skeptics and cynics predicted the most ghastly orgy of revenge but that the prophets of doom were proved wrong.

He added that those prophets of doom were proven wrong in part because of how the truth and reconciliation process amazed the world with the ability the forgive.

Many did call for Nuremberg-like trials as a means of securing so-called victor's justice.

But Tutu pointed out how devastating such trials would ultimately proven for his country.

Some complained that the perpetrators of apartheid were being let off lightly.

But Tutu asked, "Is this the case?"

He pointed out the far superior benefits of the restorative justice pursued through truth and reconciliation compared to retributive justice that focused instead on punishment.

Tutu emphasized that the essence of being human is that a person is a person to other persons.

"My humanity is caught up in your humanity. When you are dehumanized, I am dehumanized," he said.

Tutu said that God is smart: God created us so we can never be self-sufficient.

"I need you for what I lack as you need me for what you lack."

As Tutu remarked, we humans are created for interdependence; we can't say that others are superfluous.

He described how black South Africans gained knowledge of where the bodies were of loved ones who had been murdered. Even finding just a single bone of a loved one at least allowed for closure through a proper burial for that loved one.

As Tutu put it, "there can be no future without forgiveness."

He cited what occurs today too often in the Middle East with the neverending cycle of vengeful violence.

Toward the end of his address, Tutu said, "You and I are created by God to be like God. We each of us have a God-space within us."

He ended by mentioning some of the good things we are made for: laughter, compassion, caring, peace, joy, and happiness.

Tutu named some other great individuals: Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks.

Thank you, Guilford College, for arranging for one of the world's greatest leaders to address our community.

The lessons he shared are ones that will benefit any corner of our earth that embraces them, including our own corner right here in Greensboro.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Ultimate Halloween Compliment

Today was not Halloween.

It was the day after Halloween, the beginning of a brand new month.

Students returned to school today, having enjoyed an extra day off yesterday--it was set aside as a teacher workday, a day for teachers to get their grades for the first quarter turned in and work on anything and everything else that we try to keep up with.

A student had warned me last Friday of his post-Halloween plans.

He did not forget to follow through on his plans.

I believe he told me he made a special trip to the thrift shop just to buy a purplish dress shirt.

He wore olive green slacks.

No tie, which I told him ruined the overall effect.

Yes, folks, this young man, in the spirit of Halloween, dressed up as me!

I let him know how great he looked--not because I look great, but because he looked great AS ME. (It's kind of like me getting Tom Cruise or Denzel Washington or Brad Pitt to play me in a movie--automatically, the player looks better than the man getting played!)

I did criticize him for not wearing a tie. I wear the most gorgeous purple ties you've ever seen. My student should have done the same. (Of course, today, of all days, I'm tie-less, so I can't even take mine off and let him wear it. I know, like an extra cape, I should keep an extra tie or two handy at all times.)

Hey, just chill.

No worries.

He returns to Mr. Russillo's A.A., and not long after, he's coming back down the hall, wearing a spiffy purple tie.

I'm thinking, "Wow! Mr. Russillo had a spare purple tie just waiting for a student to put on. How cool!"

I take the young man's picture. (Stay tuned--I will post it if I can get his permission to do so!)

And I ask him, "Where'd you get that cool tie?"

And it's pointed out to me, it's a homemade tie. Made out of construction paper. I kid you not--I thought it was real!

So I learned that I've wasted a lot of money over the years buying beautiful ties. (Don't worry too much--I find them pretty cheap.) As it turns out, I could have made my own for an even cheaper price. Spill some spaghetti sauce on my brand-new tie? No problem. Just rip it off, throw it away and make a new one!

I didn't see this young man the majority of the day because I had to take my class down to the computer lab to take the state computer test. (New format and everything.)

But he made my day.

How many people can honestly say that someone dressed up as them for Halloween?

I know that lumps me in there with all kinds of devilish creatures--ghosts and vampires and monsters and the like--but still, I choose to take it as a compliment.

Thanks, Cody!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Dirty Political Sign Placement in High Point



Citizens in High Point will have the opportunity to vote Tuesday, November 8, 2005 to determine who will represent them on their city council.

In Ward 6, Timothy Daren Brown and Lisa Stahlmann are running against each other.

Over the last few weeks, more and more signs for High Point City Council candidates have started popping up on the roads I travel to get to my job at Southwest Guilford Middle School.

A couple nights ago, I noticed one well-placed sign for Lisa Stahlmann facing me from across the road as I arrived at a stop sign.

Anyone traveling the one-way street you must travel after leaving any of the three Southwest Guilford schools would ultimately arrive at this intersection.

Between stopping and making either a left or right turn, it would be difficult not to notice Mrs. Stahlmann's sign. I took a picture of the sign last night but did not post it. (I teach Mrs. Stahlmann's son and thought I might make a post about teaching the son of a candidate.)

As I left the school earlier this evening, I was greeted with a different sight: someone had placed a sign for Mr. Brown in front of Mrs. Stahlmann's sign.

I hope Mr. Brown had absolutely nothing to do with this dirty strategy.

I hope I am safe in assuming that Mr. Brown would just as well not have the support of someone who would stoop this low on his behalf.

I left the signs as they were and took a picture of what some poor, misguided soul did.

To have placed Mr. Brown's sign beside Mrs. Stahlmann's sign would have been fair game in my book.

But placing it directly in front of her sign can only be labeled as a dirty, "by-any-means-necessary" act by the kind of supporter any candidate would be better off without.

Hopefully a Brown supporter or Mr. Brown himself will have the decency to move the sign and discourage his supporters from behaving with blatant disrespect toward his opponent.

I wish the best to all the candidates for the High Point and Greensboro city councils.

I hope all candidates and their supporters will conduct themselves with respect and civility toward all, including their opponents.

Otherwise, your participation and involvement in our local politics is unwelcome and unwanted.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Cartoon Is Straight, But The Subject Is Shaky

I plead guilty: I love Plead the First.

Especially with material like this!

Cartoons like this and this are exactly what the News & Record needs more often.

I appreciate the cartoons they choose to print.

I just wish they'd add more local cartoons.

The wealth of material in this area may not be as grand as having PTL in your backyard, but we still have some mighty fine material that a talented cartoonist could surely mine and exploit without too much effort.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Three Great Halloween Flicks

The movies I list below are a little less mainstream than the movies some prefer to associate with Halloween.

I would argue that your time would be better spent with these three movies than with most of the rest of the lot.

Two of these are far scarier than most, and all three are better than what many of you are probably used to seeing this time of year.

1) "Frailty" is one of the most chilling horror movies I've ever seen.

As I recall, it's Bill Paxton's directorial debut.

He also stars in it, along with Matthew McConaughey and Powers Boothe. (The movie also gets two very strong performances from its child stars, Matt O'Leary and Jeremy Sumpter.)

What makes the movie so disturbing is its involvement of children and religion.

When I first saw it in a theatre, I didn't walk out thinking "This could be true."

But I did walk out thinking, "What if this were true?"

(I may be making a shaky distinction here, but I think one can be made between those two responses.)

Bill Paxton can come across as one of the most down-to-earth characters you'd ever hope to meet (as he did as a sheriff in "One False Move"), and he has that effect in this movie.

That makes what he does and what he claims to be true even more frightening, I think.

He doesn't wear a mask, and he's not grotesque in appearance or in demeanor.

That somehow only makes his deeds come across as even more sinister.

And at the same time, you're eventually forced to step back and wonder if his deeds aren't actually a good thing, perhaps even God-directed.

It's a disturbing movie, and it's complicated in what it lays out also.

It's been awhile since I've seen it, but I know it left a powerful impression, and it definitely ranks as one of the best horror films I've ever seen--as well as much more than simply a horror film.

2) "Donnie Darko" focuses on a young, deeply disturbed teen who does things that only confirm to us that he needs a lot of help.

He's actually getting that help through a psychiatrist played by Katherine Ross (of "The Graduate" fame).

His parents are supportive and loving, but they don't seem to know what to do about their son's often anti-social ways.

He doesn't seem evil, but he does seem to be battling some internal demons.

In particular, a tall, dark bunny rabbit appears at times, talking to Donnie and telling him to do certain things that don't seem to be things he should be doing. Seeing this particular bunny may forever corrupt any previous images you may have had of cute little bunny rabbits.

The issue of time travel pops up, as do some interesting characters played by the likes of Drew Barrymore and Patrick Swayze. Their roles and purposes in the movie are varied. Jena Malone does a wonderful job as the new girl who makes the fateful decision to "go with" Donnie.

At the title character, Jake Gyllenhaal is great. He is likeable, and I found myself pulling for him, even as I recognized that he's hurting and in need of some help.

The ending is either one of the happiest or saddest endings to a movie, depending on how you choose to respond to it. In that respect, this is not your typical Halloween movie.

But there is an edge of darkness to it, and it is set around Halloween.

It's a genuinely all-around fascinating experience, regardless of whether its logic ultimately holds up.

3) "Dark Night Of The Scarecrow" was apparently made for TV.

I first saw it when I was probably too young to be seeing such a movie.

It scared me to death.

A young child is again a central character.

The story centers around an ugly, stupid vigilante group that forms in a small town when it's thought that a large, mentally challenged man savagely mauled a little girl.

Before giving themselves time to find out the truth--that the man they think harmed the little girl actually saved her from near-certain death at the jaws of a vicious dog--these men kill the low-functioning man who has hidden himself in scarecrow's clothes propped up on a stick out in the middle of a field.

One-by-one the men involved in the cold-blooded murder of an innocent meet the most horrible fates you can imagine.

One scene toward the end shows the little girl out in the field in the middle of the night holding a scarecrow's hand. She's talking to him, calling him by the name of the dead mentally challenged man, Bubba. (Bubba was played by Larry Drake.)

There's another chilling scene involving a tea kettle.

Another involving a silo.

Charles Durning, playing a mailman, stands out as the leader of the vigilante group.

This one's a whole lot scarier than your typical fare this time of year.

Blood and guts don't have to be a part of the recipe to stir up genuine fright.

(I'd almost be willing to suggest a remake of this movie, except that I'd be deeply afraid that Hollywood would mess it up. I believe you might be able to find this in some video stores, though I don't know if there is a DVD version. If not, there should be!)

If you've already seen these movies, or if you rent any of them to watch, let me know your own impressions. Also, what movies would you recommend that are a bit more out of the mainstream?

Repeated Stabbing of the Throat Doesn't Feel Great

I didn't feel 100% Thursday. I felt weak and tired.

Friday morning provided a better clue as to what was wrong with me.

My throat hurt every time I swallowed, as if someone was stabbing me in the throat with a knife. (I've never had that done to me, and I don't actually know what it feels like--I'm speculating a little bit here.)

It's a sharp pain, and it makes you want to avoid swallowing.

I went into school since I didn't have a sub, but I started to think that it would probably be a good idea to arrange for covers.

My self-diagnosis, based on that pain I hadn't felt in several years but which I was pretty sure I had experienced before, was that I had strep throat. In addition to causing personal misery, it's also supposed to be highly contagious.

So I tried to keep away from everyone.

I got everything together during morning planning, and I arranged for covers, knowing how much I hated to put people in that position but also knowing that it was necessary for me to be able to leave and go see the doctor.

(Covers are fellow teachers who take over your class during your absence when you don't have a sub. If you want to ruin a teacher's day, put him or her in the position of having to cover for your class. Sometimes it's unavoidable. I don't have an exact count, but I think I've used covers a total of three days (maybe) during going-on-10 years of teaching. If at all avoidable, I make sure other teachers don't have to cover my class.)

Left school, went to the doctor, got my throat swabbed, and sure enough, when the doctor returned, he confirmed what I strongly suspected: I had strep throat.

Got my medicine, began taking it, slept a lot, watched some TV when awake, drank plenty of fluids, and now, Sunday evening, my throat is no longer in any pain when I swallow.

According to the doctor, I'm no longer contagious.

Plan to be back at work tomorrow.

Highlights of the weekend entirely indoors?

Got to watch Carolina beat Virginia 7-5. (I loved the way the game ended. You can't beat that kind of entertainment!)

Watched a favorite movie, "Donnie Darko." A good movie to see this time of the year. It is "R"-rated, primarily for its language--the characters don't always treat each other very well or say the nicest things to one another, which actually makes it similar to real life at times. I cry at the end of this movie every time I see it--there's something deeply touching about the ending, once you sit back and think about what just took place.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Greensboro Be Not Proud

If you live in Greensboro, you should be ashamed by this cartoon (even though it might also inspire a guilty laugh or two).

I almost wish current members of the Greensboro City Council would abandon all hopes of re-election and vote in something worse than we can possibly imagine so that at least a voter or two more might wake up before the Tuesday, November 11th general election.

It extends much deeper and further than Greensboro.

It's an American issue too.

After 9/11, I fully thought that America was going to wake up for real.

Now, I would not argue that America ever really woke up.

We're still WIDE asleep, folks!

And very, very few of us care or have any meaningful embarrassment about all the things that should deeply inspire or shame us.

(It's NOT just an NBA thing!)

New NBA Dress Code Does Not Go Nearly Far Enough

Click here and scroll down to see the style of dress I would require of NBA players if I was NBA Commissioner.

Too many NBA players are obviously not embarrassed by their words, actions, and overall behavior.

So let's force them to wear a style of dress that may embarrass them into earning back the freedom to wear what they want.

As a teacher, I make a chunk of what NBA players make. ("Chunk" implies a far greater portion of an NBA salary than I actually make!)

And I abide by a dress code.

I don't receive extra money to pay for my wardrobe.

I also have to follow a code of conduct that would result in a gigantic NBA labor loss if it was implemented for even one day for NBA players.

I whine a lot less than NBA players, though I promise you that I have an infinitely longer list of legitimate things to be complaining about.

And I'll be honest: when I deal with students whose behaviors and attitudes can only be described as horrible, I can very often step back and observe that they are merely emulating their favorite heroes in the sports and entertainment industries.

While we're discussing policy changes, let's change taxes so people in the sports and entertainment fields have to pay a special tax that supports higher salaries for teachers. (We could label it a "sin tax" for their poor behavior--I'm not opposed to only taxing the ones who misrepresent the beauty of basketball and the positive potential of the human race. And it's fine with me if it's applied to all areas of sports and entertainment that involve obscene profits and salaries.)

Let's also retire the NBA's public service announcements that feature NBA players touting higher values than they represent on and off the court--allegedly in the name of children.

Philadelphia's Allen Iverson: "It's just tough, man, knowing that all of a sudden you have to have a dress code out of nowhere. I don't think that's going to help the image of the league at all. ... It kind of makes it fake. The whole thing is fake."

Iverson beautifully summed up my attitude toward NBA public service announcements: "The whole thing is fake."

(I'm going to promise Mr. Sun and others not to refer to that post again--unless another great cause pops up--but it brightens my day every time I see it!)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Dudley Assistant Principal Feeds Aggie Pride

Only a couple years ago, David Jarmon abandoned his post as a sixth-grade math and science teacher at Southwest Guilford Middle School to become assistant principal at my alma mater, James B. Dudley Senior High School.

Southwest's loss was definitely Dudley's gain.

But before any of this went down, Jarmon was an Aggie.

And he still is.

I almost missed the article in today's News & Record about Jarmon's tailgating exploits.

Titled "Game Day Gourmet," this article focuses on the extreme attention to detail these master tailgaters apply to their part-time trade.

It's no surprise that one of Jarmon's favorite pasttimes involves food.

But it's also important for people to know how much genuine love and concern he's shown children over the years.

I know he's having the same powerfully positive impact at Dudley that he had for years at Southwest Middle.

Anyone who's ever met Jarmon will never forget him. He makes that strong of an impression.

I know I'm not alone in missing him at Southwest.

I also know I'm lucky to be able to count him among my friends, and every time I hear from him or see him, it brings back all the good memories of when he was a fellow middle school teacher.

My only complaint is that Jarmon left many of us scarred for life, suffering from regular nightmares, when he crashed one of our pep rallies in a blond wig, a cheerleader's outfit, and pom poms.

You can't erase as frightening an image as that away from your memories.

Don't forget to check out the News & Record story!

There's a picture of Jarmon on the side too.

(NOT in his cheerleading uniform, in case you were afraid to check it out!)