Saturday, December 30, 2006

Grace of the Season

As I write this I'm listening to the Prairie Home Companion Christmas show from last weekend. That's about the speed I'm at this week. Garrison Keillor mentioned something about the ICE raids at the Swift plants that I hadn't heard before; that the date of the raids coincided with the Feast of Our Lady of Guadelupe, Catholic Patroness of Latin America. Nice touch, that. I think I understand why Bishop Chaput was so concerned, among his other reasons. ICE could go a long way by remembering that like much of life, timing can mean a lot.

This past Tuesday, when the gloom and doom about another winter storm in Denver was starting to trickle across the National Weather Service website, I hastily made flight reservations from Grand Junction to Denver and reserved a hotel room near DIA, to make sure that my brother-in-law made it back to Denver to meet his traveling companions Thursday morning for the flight back to Providence, and then to his group home on Cape Cod.

This meant that I would fly round trip and he would fly one-way to Denver, which entitled him to extra-special treatment by the crack TSA detachment at Walker Field. Granted, they only have a job to do, and they did what they needed to do with grace and efficiency and sent us on our way, but between this, and the shoes, and the liquids, who are they kidding? I guess that's the thing that galls me the most about this approach to terrorism "prevention"; that everyone is a suspect until proven otherwise. Whether this approach is truly necessary is a matter that continues to be open for debate.

There is also an opportunity to give credit where it's due, and with that I commend the operations staff, private security, and TSA detachment at Denver International. They had constant eyes on the two security lines, made adjustments to the lines and barriers as needed, and were constantly issuing verbal reminders to have your boarding pass and ID out, coat and shoes off, laptop out, and for God's sake make sure that before the infant carrier goes through the X-Ray that the infant has been removed. DIA staff also did the same thing for the incredible lines of people with luggage to check that had descended on United's ticket counters, some also trying to see if they could move up their flight to beat the storm. If you were carry-on only, they directed you to the self-serve kiosk, and they made adjustments to the dynamics of the line whenever additional ticket agents became available, went to lunch, went crazy, etc.

The cumulative effect of this well-staffed and coordinated effort was that we hit the door of the airport at 8:00 and were at the gate at 8:45. An impressive display of organization, and much appreciated. My brother-in-law got out on Southwest without a problem. When my later return flight to GJ was cancelled for weather, United quickly made adjustments to get me on a later departure. From the looks of it, the weather cancellation smelled like a Pilot-In-Command decision, because the ceiling and visibility hadn't improved when a fresh flight crew boarded the plane ahead of us for the re-scheduled flight. To make a long story short, we touched down at GJT less than 2 hours late. Nicely done, United and SkyWest.

Chalk it up to serendipity, the availability of options, or perhaps a realization on the part of the airline that if they didn't deal with us now, they would most certainly deal with us later. Either way, it was indicative to me of the grace under pressure that some of us can exhibit, especially in the face of tired, upset people.

On a separate note, the Grand Junction Free Press had an excellent article on its' Friday front page about a deaf Grand Junction woman's progress through Cochlear Implant surgery. The most telling line of the story talked about the choice her parents made to pursue speech therapy and oral education for her, instead of sign language. That action in and of itself is the road less traveled in Western Colorado, for several reasons including the lack of surgeons here performing the procedure. That's changing, and hopefully along with it will be the attitude toward the use of CI's, and the improvements in the education and societal integration of deaf children that this will help to bring about.

It will be very interesting to follow Lisa Young's progress. Our best wishes for a successful surgery and the opening of a new world to her.

Be careful out there this weekend.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Best Christmas Wishes

My brother-in-law and his traveling companions arrived in Denver on Friday night, having driven from Chicago in a rental car all day. I went over on Saturday and drove him back that evening. At least he is here for Christmas, but alas he flies out of Denver back east on Thursday morning. We will leave Wednesday to head over there and stay the night before getting together with the mother and son who will take him back to Providence, and from there to Cape Cod. There is more weather on the horizon for mid-week, so the earlier we start over there the better chance we have to traverse the passes without difficulty.

myself taking my regular Monday morning walk to Enstrom's for a hot chocolate, not realizing they were closed until it was too late to turn around, so I just got the paper and headed back to the car. That's one of the dangers of working shifts, and in public safety; holidays just become any other work day from a practical standpoint. It may seem quieter, but in some circles it really isn't.

There will inevitably be a call from an overly wrought parent whose ex-spouse with custody of the kids won't let the ex come visit or have regular visitation, and who expects the police to force the other party to relent, or comply with the court agreement. There will be the usual large family gathering, with tongues and emotions lubricated by miscellaneous hard feelings and alcohol in excess, that devolves into a drunken shouting match. There will be a few different calls, like the young lady who couldn't contact her probation officer and needed to because she was on electronic monitoring (the "ankle bracelet") and had been evicted by her landlord on Christmas Eve, and needed to let Probation know.

There are also numerous examples of quiet grace and civility that highlight the day and the season. Such an attitude, while prevalent, seems fewer and far between in the atmosphere of polarization and consumerism that we seem to be living in. There is a ray of hope, however, as evidenced by yesterday's installment of Meet The Press, in which Pastor Rick Warren and Jon Meacham of Newsweek spoke about the status of religion in America and the changing face of evangelicals.

Pastor Warren's "Global Goliaths" - spiritual emptiness, egocentric leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic disease, and illiteracy/poor education, were summarized by him in a comprehensive and concise manner, enough to keep an audience's attention without throwing too much at them. One could tell that he's an accomplished and persuasive speaker. The entire transcript is available here. I was quite taken by the honesty and candor of the participants, and encouraged greatly by what they had to say.

I'll leave you and me to celebrating Christmas with those you love and hopefully can be close to today. If you get a minute, read on below. This is an excerpt from The Seven Dangers of Christmas, an essay by Garrison Keillor, and while it captures the way I feel about this day from a more secular standpoint, it is the unwritten joy that goes into what we celebrate that makes all of the small traditions and rituals worth the time taken to make them happen.

Have a wonderful day.

Christmas is a work of art, and art is filled with danger, art is made by people who know about suffering. Van Gogh was tormented by hallucinations when he painted those fields of flowers. Beethoven was going deaf when he wrote the Ninth Symphony. Emily Dickinson wrote "Success is counted sweetest/By those who ne'er succeed/To comprehend a Nectar/Requires sorest need" as a woman so withdrawn from normal social contact that, when her family entertained visitors, she preferred to listen from behind a screen in the hallway.

The beautiful Christmases that I remember from childhood were created by women who had gone through the Depression, the Dirty Thirties, the dust storms, and after you have tasted dust, then you may be ready to create some elegance and music and wrap the presents so beautifully that even a small child will know to unwrap them slowly and deliberately, not rushing. Thus, the artfulness of the paper and ribbons serve to prolong that delicious moment of suspense and make the gift a wonderful surprise.

The greatest danger of Christmas is that we may be too dull, too dopey, too stuffed, to get joy out of it, and Christmas will be wasted on us.

It is a magical day, though, and among the old customs, the foods, the music, is something that has the power to open our hearts. Some simple thing that can surprise us.

How beautiful and dazzling bright,
One candle on a winter's night.

How beautiful these harmonies
That echo through the centuries.

And in this singing we shall find
The blessing given to mankind.

A blessing without price or end,
A blessing on your house, my friend.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The Blizzard of 2006

Today I should have been driving back from Denver with my brother-in-law Mike. After both of our flights into Denver got canceled Wednesday, the wheels of contingency began turning in several heads. Mike and the family he was traveling with made it as far as Chicago. Luckily the matriarch of this family lives there, and the family with Mike in tow have established temporary quarters in a condo on the southwest side of town. In our conversations several potential courses of action were floated around; fly standby (or wait for an empty seat on the day after Christmas), drive to Denver from Chicago, or fly to Salt Lake and come into GJ and Denver that way.

They have decided to rent a car and drive to Denver. They'll be leaving Friday morning, hoping to arrive sometime Saturday. Aside from some rain forecast for tomorrow, the weather is forecast to clear out as they head west. I'll leave GJ Saturday morning and drive over. Depending on how late they get it in, we'll probably stay the night before heading back. Barring any additional surprises, Mike will get to spend Christmas with us, which will be nice.

The family Mike is with has been most accommodating and easy to work with. I'd venture Mike hasn't been on a plane or left New England in 20 years. So far, he's enjoying himself. I guess it's all rooted in the attitude you take toward this type of adversity.

I was working Monday morning when our share of the snow arrived. One of the things that amazes me is how such little comparative snowfall can paralyze an area not expecting it, or not mentally prepared for it. The number of accidents, slide-offs from major highways, and general emoting about the situation was significant, but not surprising for an area like this one. Makes me wonder how we would deal with a blizzard such that Denver got, and how we all would react and respond to it.

Looking forward to a little bit of calm for Christmas. Hopefully all will arrive safe and sound. I hope that if you're expecting family from out of town this weekend that their trips will be safe and uneventful. God bless.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Many Directions

This is the first week since I started this that nothing particularly passionate comes to mind to write about. The blogosphere is such a shrill place at times, and I've been at a loss to really have anything to be overly concerned about, for which I really can't complain. This doesn't mean I'm not busy, though. I've got numerous projects that I'm trying to split time between, not the least of which is completing Christmas shopping and getting cards, letters, and gifts out to loved ones here and out of town. Online shopping has helped with this quite a bit, but I'm still trolling locally for a few things. Made some good progress today on a number of fronts.

I've volunteered at KAFM, our local community public radio station, since it opened its' doors in 1999. I've mainly been behind the scenes, helping with clerical work, some technical maintenance, and answering the phones during fund drives. This year, the opportunity presented itself to take a role in the production of a regular program at the station, and I felt called to give it a try.

Words is a program that solicits participation from school-age children, and involves the students researching a word in the dictionary, learning how to spell it, and use it in a sentence. We have a standard script that they read, and they come to the station either individually or as part of a class field trip to record their words and see what a radio station is like. After they record their words, we find topical music that somehow goes with the word, and edit and mix these into a 1 minute segment that runs three times each weekday.

I'm co-producing the program with Linda Skinner, another volunteer who has a teaching and broadcasting background. Between Linda's connections at the schools, excellent rapport with teachers and kids, and my technical contributions, we are making slow progress in developing a process to recruit participants, get them to the station to record, and effect post-production in time to have all of the next month's words ready by the end of the preceding month.

It's been a daunting process so far, with some unexpected pitfalls, but a great learning experience and a chance to connect with different people. It's been fun trying to figure out music that matches up with the word or its' example sentence, and using software to edit and mix the child's voice and music. I'm optimistic about our ability to maintain and expand this community outreach, including taking Words "on the road" to involve schools who may be unable to participate due to travel constraints or distance. It feels good and right to be involved with this.

My brother-in-law will be coming in from Massachusetts to spend Christmas with us. He lives in a group home on Cape Cod, and a family that is visiting relatives in Denver will escort him to DIA, where I will pick him up. He's an interesting guy who hasn't been on a plane in probably 20 years, so I hope things will go well. My wife will be making sure he's OK while he's here, because I'll be working and getting Words put together for January. I hope to be able to show him the usual cool things around GJ while he's here, and we'll be driving him back to Denver after the holiday.

There is one thing I saw today that I thought was an impressive use of the media to get an important message out. The Rocky Mountain News' coverage of the ICE raid on the Swift plant in Greeley included a blurb about the response of the United Way of Weld County to issues pertaining to families and children affected by family members, in many cases both parents, being arrested during the operation. Information about this effort is available here.

While I agree with Ralph D'Andrea's take on the issue, I am compelled to consider the plight of those who are guilty of nothing but following their parents into this country. The social service infrastructure in the Greeley area is likely going to sustain a significant impact from the fallout of these arrests, and while the federal government is indeed not at fault for doing their job, there is an opportunity for compassion and service here. My check is in the mail.

That's how I'm managing the numerous directions in which we all seem to get pulled when the holidays and the end of another year arrive. Best wishes to you in your navigation, too.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Good Works

I had a very busy week last week. Worked all three shifts, between two nights, one evening, and then two days at a staff retreat that was (luckily) exciting and enlightening, and in between a day trip to monetarism to render some technical assistance to the Comm Center there. After all was said and done I got Saturday and most of Sunday off before going back in for night shift Sunday night.

During the weekend I saw several of what I consider effective examples of individuals and one business reaching out to the community, both locally and globally, in ways that you might not consider traditional. I'd like to share them with you, in hopes that you get a chance to show support next time you encounter them in your travels.

First, a big thanks to the man bundled up Sunday morning at 12th and North holding the sign proclaiming in very big letters the words POSITIVE THOUGHTS. He got a honk and a thumbs up from me as I drove past on the way back to the house with my Sunday morning survival kit, which consists of the Sunday Post, Sentinel, and a burrito from Los Jilbertos. Thanks again to whoever you are for braving the cold, and reminding us of something we too often forget.

Second, Monday's
Free Press had an article on Cathy Donahoe, a local physical therapist and good friend of ours who is raising money to go on a three-year missionary assignment to the Dominican Republic. Cathy has been of great assistance to my wife since she's been ill, and truly has the mindset and dedication to take her knowledge and gifts for healing to others who would otherwise not have the benefits of this available to them.

Third, the new
Regal Cinemas Canyon View Stadium 14 theatres have proven to be a quantum leap in local cinema entertainment. The facility has augmented the capability for the local area to have more exposure to first-run films that are of a more independent nature, or may appeal to a different segment of audiences. While they will not approach the eclectic, more unique fare offered by the excellent Cinema At The Avalon, the facility is comfortable, the sound and picture are first-rate, and this past week they took a great step forward in accommodating people with hearing disabilities by offering at least one feature film with Open Captioning. This week it's Happy Feet. Next week it will be Casino Royale. There's a website that lists these films and where they're playing nationwide.

Thanks to Regal. Both your facility and the availability of open-captioned films are long overdue in this area. Perhaps your initiative will help to convince other media providers in this area that it's time to start accommodating not only those who are profoundly deaf or hard of hearing, but also those increasing numbers of late-deafened people in middle age or who are elderly that are choosing to live in our area.

some, this will mean upgrading the current mode of captioning to allow for more consistent and comprehensive service delivery, including ad-libbed and live remote broadcasts. For others it will mean making the necessary arrangements to meet obligations under federal law.

In any event, the true spirit of the Christmas season seems to be showing itself in small ways around town, and that's a good thing any time of year. Thanks to
Mary Harmeling for validating a lot of my previous thoughts about the season in her Sentinel column this past Saturday. It's the best reason to read the paper on Saturdays, especially when compared to You Said It.

Have a great week.