Friday, September 29, 2006

Try to Remember the Kind of September...

Although the season officially shifted to autumn more than a week ago, I find it hard to really feel the transition these days. When I was a child growing up in Boston, the foliage at this time of year with its brilliant hues splashed across my visual field served to announce the arrival of fall. In today's climate in southern California, hot dry Santa Ana winds puff new life into brush fires that have burned for more than three weeks. Hurricanes have always swirled to life in the tropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean, but the devastating potential of such a weather phenmenon was starkly realized last year in the challenging arrival of Katrina and Rita to the Gulf Coast region. Weather and its impact help to mark the changing seasons.

As a child, another significant marker of the change in seasons was the return to school. School was a refuge for some of us, whose turbulent home lives were kept at bay for those hours when we were busy learning. Although the superior technology available in today's classrooms with access to the internet and its infinite well of information had not yet been created, curricula regularly contained art and music and drama classes and sports activities as vital supplements to the academic curriculum. Like nutritional vitamins and minerals that we take to enhance our daily bodily functions, those classes taught us skills that eased the process of incorporating what we had learned into our daily lives.

Now schools can no longer afford such luxuries when the budget barely sustains the salaries of teachers and adequate maintenance of the facilities. Money must also be diverted to metallic screening devices and security police to protect students from gunmen intent on making their point with lethal weapons instead of words. Already in this academic year, seventeen instances of unprovoked violent attacks have occurred on campuses in Colorado (not far from the notorious Columbine High School), Montreal, Wisconsin and an Amish community in Pennsylvania. Debates continue over the interpretation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution and "the right to bear arms." However, no one can dispute that the extinction of such young lives is tragic.

In Washington, the vulnerability of young people is also sacrificed to the needs of political power. High school students (pages) and college students (interns) have been subjected to the amoral and perverse behaviors of elected officials in the Congress while others in power looked in the other direction. Like other young people exploited by their clergymen, these individuals with aspirations of public service were betrayed rather than mentored. It is difficult to maintain faith in those who make and interpret the legal statutes when they secretly circumvent the laws precisely because they have the power to do so.

Memoirs have gotten bad press lately in the wake of the blatant distortions of James Frey's book A Million Little Pieces. However, the revelations of real personal experiences are powerful tools for exposing heinous truths and demonstrating the indomitable and resilient character of human nature. My first published piece, Now I Have to Tell This Story, exposed the horrific trauma of being kidnapped and raped but it also revealed that it was possible to survive such an ordeal. Two of the five girls killed in the one room Amish schoolhouse were sisters. I was struck by the poignant irony that their family has no photographs by which to remember them while the news of their tragic deaths were visible on newscasts around the country.

Whether you write in a private journal or letters to family members or manuscripts for publication, your words can create images as compelling and lasting as any broadcast on television, on the internet or in film. History is the accumulated stories of those who preceded us. In the future, when this time is examined, your verbal snapshots will be missing from the album if you do not create them now. Every one of us has the power and the privilege to record our beliefs and experiences in written form, whether or not we consider ourselves "writers." Write about the things that move you, the things that excite you, the things that infuriate you, but write!

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