Saturday, September 1, 2012

homecoming, at last...

A most memorable day          When my younger daughter asked me to take her to see “our old house,” her birthplace, I had little time to decide whether to trespass on the property that hadn’t belonged to us for almost twenty years.

Minutes later, I turned onto the driveway of what had been the 360 Drive-In theater, now a church. On its left border of the driveway was the property line that bordered our old home. Its new owners had allowed a ten-foot lane of weeds and briars to grow among the giant mulberry and other trees that lined that edge.

By the time I’d said, “We’ll have to find a path through there,” my daughter had found one and was taking pictures of what had been our side yard and its sizable magnolia, one I’d planted, the very one she’d loved to climb.

Although we’d escaped without being caught, I have to admit I wanted to see more; I’d loved that home, built in the early 1920’s, and its 18 acres. My daughter did too. But we didn’t have time for nostalgia; now that she had a few pictures for her scrapbook, she barely had time to finish packing for her yearlong trip to Jerusalem.

It seemed that she had quickly compartmentalized her wish to see our former home; I hadn’t. Finding time to do the work to make it happen was a problem; so many other tasks were more pressing. So I too set aside the thought of a homecoming.

One bit of work required a huge chunk of time; I had to prepare for my Fall semester classes. Rather than relying on notes from previous semesters, I knew this one presented so many teachable opportunities that I had to find a way to incorporate all of them. Titled Controversial Issues, my class was designed to be a hotbed of controversy. Because my students and I would be meeting before and after the presidential elections and the anniversary of 9/11, I was thrilled with the possibilities to enhance awareness on many levels.

Almost immediately, I planned to discuss bias and its mean-spirited relative, the ad hominem attack. Now that the hope inspired by the Arab spring had been squandered, I had a perfect example of both. More than a year ago, in February 2011, there was this:

Out of Thin Air: Robert Spencer's Loony Rants About the ...Imminent Take Over of Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood. Posted on 25 February 2011 by Rousseau -
That story would lead to a discussion of Islam, its culture, and the role it plays in our American culture as well as that of the rest of the world. Already, plans had been made for a presentation by Dave Gaubatz, author of Muslim Mafia, a fascinating and fact-filled book about CAIR and its intentions.

Following that, we’d dive into politics, with a focus on leadership and its function as a determinant of progress or the lack of it in the development of societies and civilizations. That lesson would begin with an especially prescient piece written almost a year ago:

New evolutionary psychology claims are that physical stature affects our preferences in political leadership. A paper published in Social Science Quarterly ...
Evolutionary psychology: Violent cavemen led to preference for physically strong leaders now
posted on: october 18, 2011 [my emphasis] 7:07am
New evolutionary psychology claims are that physical stature affects our preferences in political leadership. A paper published in Social Science Quarterly says that a preference for physically formidable leaders, or caveman politics, may have evolved to ensure survival in ancient human history…
…The authors then carried out two studies, analyzing 467 students from both public and private universities in the United States. The first study aimed to capture attitudes towards the preferred physical stature of leaders by using a figure-drawing task…
…In the second test subjects were asked to answer a questionnaire about their own leadership attributes to consider how height influences personal perceptions of political leadership and attitudes toward running for office.
…said Schmitz, "Culture and environment alone cannot explain how a preference for taller leaders is a universal trait we see in different cultures today, as well as in societies ranging from ancient Mayans, to pre-classical Greeks, and even animals."
"Our research and the literature demonstrate that there is a preference for physically formidable leaders that likely reflects an evolved psychological trait, independent of any cultural conditioning," concluded Murray. "So while at 6'1" Barack Obama towered over the 5'8" John McCain in 2008, perhaps he'll meet his physical equal in one of the 'big man' governors in the 6'1" Rick Perry or the 6'2" Mitt Romney in November 2012."  [my emphasis]
During class, I’d planned to present that article for discussion…after we’d resolved the issue about whether either the first cave man or cave woman or Adam (as in Adam and Eve) realized they were the first persons on earth. So much discussion followed after one student asked, “Are you saying that Adam wasn’t the first man?”
His tone was edgy, as if he’d been threatened or his sphere of influences had been rattled. “I really don’t know,” I answered, tossing the issue back to him, as if to ask, “Do you?”
Near the end of our lively discussion, I knew I’d have to wait until the next class to share both articles. At least that’s what I thought when, near the end of class, a man in a shirt and tie approached the door.
“Is that him?” asked one of my students. I’d told them that the A-V director had promised to come to our class to show me how to use its multi media technology.
I knew the A-V person. That wasn’t him.
Timidly, the man entered. He asked whether he was in Humanities 165.
“Yes,” I answered, “please join us.”
He was older, wore glasses, sported a crew cut. Very thin with a weathered face, he seemed interested in our discussion. After a few minutes, he voiced his opinion. His tone was that of someone wise and compassionate.
Class ended. Following a quick meeting with the students who had entered class for the first time, I walked to the door.
“May I talk to you?” It was the man with the crew cut.
“Yes,” I said, as I motioned for him to follow me as I walked to my car.
He explained that he is a disabled Vet, then mentioned a few of the complications that presented. “They’re still sorting through my financial aid,” he said. “I decided to come anyway. Hope you don’t mind.”
I didn’t. He had a lot to offer. At least that’s how it seemed to me.
“I use to be a truck driver. Before that, a landscaper,” he said. Due to his injuries, he said that could no longer do either. “But I know someone who knows you.”
I couldn’t imagine who that might be. He seemed to see that.
“I lived in the little house below the main house, the one with concrete curbing all around it. I heard the sisters say that a Koplen used to own it.”
When he spoke of the curbing, immediately images from my time at the house near the Drive-In returned. I remembered a few barns I had renovated, and a two-car garage I never used. Any of them could be homes, meager homes at best, I supposed.
“Are you that Koplen?” he asked. “I thought you might be.”
“Yes,” I said, without telling him that both of my daughters were born there. “Yes,” I said again, overcome with thoughts of the many memories I’d left there.
“Do you think the owners would mind if I visited?” I asked. I’m sure I sounded humble.
“Sure,” he said, so brightly that I wanted to fetch my children and take them with me. “They’d love to see you. I’m sure of it,” he said, knowingly.
“Good,” I said, fighting back tears I hadn’t anticipated.

Suddenly I knew of one more thing that would make this semester unforgettable.

                                                                     B. Koplen 9/1/12

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