Anyone can fake independence, as long as the infrastructure holds up and the checks keep coming.  –Janie B. Cheaney

It’s easy to be independent when you’ve got money. But to be independent when you haven’t got a thing- that’s the Lord’s test.  -Mahalia Jackson

Anyone can tell you about the detrimental effect of poverty on families. Some may even be able to articulate the downward spiral generational poverty creates for the children being raised in environments lacking in nutrition and proper nurturing, and living under the threat of constant danger. It is easy for those of us on the outside to make quick, dismissal judgments on the parents and their lack of motivation and seemingly lack of care for their children. Despite our sympathy for these poor kids, we often fail to genuinely realize that without significant intervention, they will likely grow up to become just like the parents who are judged today. Studies indicate that children of low social economic status are more likely to underperform in school and become involved in delinquent behaviors such as drug use and sexual promiscuity. It is also well known that children raised in safe, caring, and stable environments have the greatest chance of success. So how do you bridge the gap and break the negative cycle of poverty? It is a daunting task that requires man power that just doesn’t realistically exist, even with volunteers of the biggest hearts and the best intentions. However, one program has found a way to gather workers right from the communities and neighborhoods that need the most help. The program is based on the simple but, in this case, profound idea of mentoring.

Julie O’Donnell, Elizabeth Michalak, and Ellen Ames present a study on inner-city mentoring in an article entitled: “Inner-City Youths Helping Children: After-School Programs to Promote Bonding and Reduce Risk.” The study identifies all the typical risk factors involved with inner-city neighborhoods in poverty, but they focus on the problems of peer bonding among friends who are involved in anti-social behaviors and therefore become negative influences. Rather than simply educating children about the risk of negative behaviors, the program involves collaboration between the youth, their families, schools and agencies within the community. It is based on the Social Development Model which “emphasizes bonding as a key protective factor in children’s resistance to problem behaviors.” This model theorizes that “Bonding is a sense of belonging…once children feel bonded to a social unit; they want to live according to its standards and norms.” Recognizing the strong influence of peer bonding, proponents of the Social Development Model screened older youth, who exhibited pro-social behavior, from the community and trained them to be mentors in after-school programs to younger children from the same community. Because mentors shared the same risk factors of the children they were helping, they received extensive training and support networks. They were also paid and they received consistent rewards and praise for their involvement in the program, which is called The Collaborative After-school Prevention Program. Mentors were assigned a group of no more than seven children, and while they focused primarily on social skills development, they also provided practical help with homework. Even though it was not required of them, most mentors became involved in other community activities like assisting in coaching sports teams, street clean up, and rebuilding community homes. In addition, more than 50 percent of mentors went on to college after graduating high school. And what about the younger children who were the focus of the program? They improved their study habits, stayed more focused on their homework, and improved their social skills. Equally important, it provided a safe place to be and kept them off the streets. As one mentor put it, “It gives them another place to be children. Out in the streets they can’t be children; they have to be part of the hood. They know how to load a gun before they know how to tie their shoes.” Perhaps the most successful result of the program was that the children also became bonded to the mentors and ultimately to the “pro-social units and began to internalize their standards for pro-social behavior. These protective factors should reduce problem behaviors,” which was the main goal of the Social Development Model.

In addition to the successful results of the program, research supports their findings. Studies show that children from low social economic status are at greater risk for many developmental problems. Often parents simply can’t be there for their children because they are forced to work extra hours to make ends meet, or they simply don’t have the emotional or mental abilities to care for their children. Kids who could otherwise be spending hours in front of the television or, worse, be out on the streets getting exposed to dangerous situations of drug use and possible violence, are in a safe environment learning both social and study skills. Another factor to consider, according to Kelvin Seifert and Robert Hoffnung in their book Child and Adolescent Development, families of low social economic status run a greater risk of child abuse (329). The emphasis on the bonding between mentors and the children in their groups would provide a safe place for a child to express his/her concerns to a trusted role-model; who could identify the problem and report it to the program directors. They also state that children from neighborhoods prone to violence tend to adopt highly aggressive behavior modeled by their peers (422); this program shows children, through their mentors, that they can make choices that result in positive consequences. Aside from family influences, children learn most of their social behavior from peers of their own age as well as a few years older (415).  This program offers children the ability to learn positive behaviors from older kids in their communities. The mentors have a higher chance of relating to their group members because they have shared common experiences and are working to overcome the same issues. Thus, the Social Development Model not only has proven results from its program, but the research also supports its effectiveness.

For those who take the time to implement it, a program like this could produce positive results for all members of the community. While students of both peer groups obviously benefit the most from this program with their new social and academic skills, and with the new friendships which will undoubtedly last for many years, teachers have a significant reason to invest their time in the program in any ways available. Students who go through the mentoring program will become more compliant and not only cause fewer disruptions, but with the training they receive, they will likely become positive peer role-models within their classes. These students, who may otherwise neglect homework, would receive regular help with it which would increase their ability and confidence in the classroom, and also result in better test scores for the teacher and school in general. Students and teachers are not the only ones who benefit; parents would have the confidence of knowing their children are in a safe place for at least a few hours a week. As their children increase in social skills, they will bring their new understandings of relationship to the home, and perhaps bring positive changes to the whole environment. The program could also identify areas of specific needs in the families, and point them in a direction to receive resources and help they otherwise might have been ignorant of. This program, if it is given the proper resources and funding, benefits the entire community.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem facing a program like this is getting the whole community involved: “The Collaborative After-school Program was a partnership among the YMCA, three elementary schools and one middle school, the department of social work at an urban university, a church, a child guidance center, an art museum, and the county probation department” (O’Donnell). That is a lot of support and a lot of collaboration. The task of gaining the support needed among local community centers is daunting in of itself, let alone coordinating and working together to make the program affective. I think it is possible to make it work; however, and very much worth the effort. This program brings together a vision I’ve been developing within myself for a few years now. I find myself disappointed and disillusioned by public school’s lack of ability to truly help out these neglected and abused children. We simply allow them to disrupt the educational process until they either shape up, or we ship them out, but there is no real help and evident care for them. On the other hand, I volunteer for an inner-city youth ministry at my church where we mostly just go and play with kids. While there is significant bonding going on, and I’ve seen very positive changes in many kids, we tend lose them in adolescence, especially the boys. A program like this would offer purpose for the older kids and give them a reason stay involved. I don’t know the best steps to take from here, but this article offers the direction I’ve been looking for in my desire to help out poor families in practical and lasting ways. I definitely plan to research this topic further.

Peter L Richardson
11/25/2006

O’Donnell, Julie, Michalak, Elizabeth A., and Ellen B. Ames. “Inner-City Youths  Helping Children After-School Programs to Promote Bonding and Reduce Risk.” Social Work in Education 19.4 (1997): 231-241. Academic Search Premier. 21 November 2006. http://search.ebscohost.com.

Seifert, Kevin L., and Robert J. Hoffnung. Child and Adolescent Development 5th Ed. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston, 2000.

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Children’s needs should come before our rights.

from the 1983 movie, Mr. Mom:
Jack Butler: My brain is like oatmeal. I yelled at Kenny today for coloring outside the lines! Megan and I are starting to watch the same TV shows, and I’m liking them! I’m losing it.
Caroline: Honey, I know what you’re talking about. I’ve been there myself, alright?
Jack Butler: Well, if you’re so unhappy, why don’t you say something about it?
Caroline: Because I wasn’t unhappy! Look, maybe I was a little confused, maybe I was a little frustrated, but I knew what I was doing was important, because it means something to raise human beings. What saw me through was pride.

Before the Feminist Movement was in full swing there were many unrealistic expectations for women, some that forced them to try to achieve impossible standards and some that denied their abilities, particularly in the areas of work, fashion, homemaking and marriage. In Nancy A. Walker’s book Women’s Magazines 1940-1960 she has reprinted many articles from and about women of the time. One from Ladies Home Journal in 1944 is entitled “You Can’t Have a Career and Be a Good Wife.”  The author laments that it is no wonder that couples get divorced when the wife goes off to work. Women were expected to stay home, and if they wanted a career, they were selfish. Of course, ideally, it is best for children to have a parent in the house; especially during their youngest years, but we don’t live in an ideal world. Women were always expected to look and smell their best no matter what the circumstances, perhaps the best expression of this is Elinor Goulding Smith’s mocking article “How to Look Halfway Decent,” in which she uses humor to counter the ridiculous expectation that a woman’s best asset is her looks. Our modern perspective of these articles makes many of them seem humorous (or maybe horrifying if you’re a woman); however, there is some real wisdom we can glean from a time when strong families were still the norm in America. Apart from some radical opinions, many articles on marriage had good advice for women. Most spoke about how to reach the ideal for trying to please your husband while acknowledging that women simply can’t always achieve that ideal, but they should at least hold it in mind and make the effort. The problem, like a California resident complained to Redbook in the 1945 column, “What’s on Your Mind?,” is that no one focuses on the woman’s needs and what the man can do to please her. Even in the article, “What Makes Wives Dissatisfied?,” women are given validation for their frustrations, but then the burden of change is still on them to fix their man; only submissively of course (in other words manipulatively). In my opinion, a husband and wife should look at their marriage as a partnership, each valuing the strengths of the other, while forgiving the weaknesses of the other, and mutually submitting to each other’s needs. When technology advanced with the mass production of new appliances, women began to have it easier, as Robert J. Knowlton testified in “Your Wife Has an Easy Racket!” This gave women the ability to move out in the world and experience new things, but it is ironic that the more toys we get to make life easier, the busier Americans become and the less time we have for our families. It still takes parents who are present to raise children. Two career families put more strain on the family, but they are possible if both spouses are willing to share the burden of the household and both are consistently putting their family’s needs before their own. My favorite article on homemaking was Dorothy Thompson’s, “Occupation–Housewife.” It is a real job, she argues, and a real testament to the women who do it well. There are many women who find complete satisfaction in simply raising a family, and they should not be mocked. Families who produce kids and then ignore them are not families.

Make no mistake. I am fully supportive of equal rights and opportunity for all women. As a man, I have, and will continue to if placed under their authority, submitted to women in higher positions with absolutely no reservations. So I feel women’s liberation has been good for America in many ways. But many feminists take their gripe too far. Some make staying home and raising kids sound like a jail sentence. I have kids, and I am divorced, so when my kids are over, I have had to be mom and dad at the same time. When my sons were younger and woke up in the middle of the night with nightmares, I had to comfort them; I had to cook and clean for them and clean up their puke; I had to teach them how to be men while at the same time learn how to be sensitive to their needs and understanding of their boo-boos. Taking care of the house and the family can be monotonous and boring work, but my boys are also the most wonderful aspect of my life. They still have years to grow, but I am proud of the men they are becoming. I can testify that being involved and raising them despite my divorce held me back in my career goals and dreams; I did not achieve my BA until I was in my thirties, and I simply still do not have the time to prove myself as a writer to anyone who might pay me. But these are just some of the many sacrifices I gladly make to put my sons’ needs before my own. Hopefully they won’t make the same mistakes I’ve made in life, but I know I have done all I am able to help them succeed. And that is a great satisfaction in my life. 1950s society was too restrictive for women, of that there is no doubt, and the effort to make the job of a housewife seem glamorous seems pretty ridiculous to me; no job is without weaknesses, and no job can bring complete satisfaction. However, some feminists make the job of raising children out to be a meaningless and pointless existence. What a blasphemy to the value of human life! The issue here is not the role of a woman, but the role of a parent. I am friends with a couple who have chosen for dad to stay home with the kids, and he is a man in all respects, and he has a great relationship with both his wife and his kids. And as I said earlier, if a man and woman can cooperate with each other and raise a family with two careers, more power to them. In our economy, many families are forced to do so, but if you’re going to neglect your kids’ emotional needs simply to climb up the ladder of status and smug self satisfaction (whether you are a man or a woman): don’t have them, and don’t mock parents who seek to raise well adjusted children into successful, well adjusted adults. It seems to me, there is nothing more important for the future of our society than that.

Peter L Richardson
original essay: 8/12/04

To think about Elizabeth Bishop, one is forced to think about geography. Her friend and fellow poet, Richard Wilbur, speaks of her, “When she looked in her poetry for ultimate answers, she generally expressed the search in the key of geography, of travel.” But Bishop did not content herself to looking for answers only in geography. She was free to look in other places as well. In her poems, “The Moose” and “The Fish,” Bishop has an encounter with the natural world. It is in these creatures that Elizabeth comes closest to discovering an “ultimate answer” for the struggles she bears in each particular poem. Though each poem is very different in structure and style, each has similar themes. In both, there is an interaction of some kind between man and the natural world. Bishop describes each creature with a sense of respect and honor. Each creature comes to represent something deeper than itself to her. Through each experience Bishop learns that there are things in life that are bigger than she, yet that doesn’t serve to diminish her worth, rather each experience helps her to grow.

“The Moose” was published a good twenty years after “The Fish.” However, there are manuscripts that indicate she began the poem much earlier. Also, knowing a bit about Bishop’s biography indicates that “The Moose” is probably about an experience Bishop had as a child, while “The Fish” can be assumed to be about an experience she had as an adult. For this reason, I’ll begin with exploring what was going on with young Elizabeth, as Bishop reflects on her encounter with “The Moose” and then move on to explore her encounter with “The Fish.”

“The Moose” is dedicated to Grace Bulmer Bowers, Bishop’s maternal aunt. When Bishop was a child her father passed away and her mother had to be institutionalized. She was sent to live with her maternal grandparents in Nova Scotia until her paternal grandparents intervened and took her to live back in Massachusetts, her father’s origins. On the surface, “The Moose“ is a narrative poem about a bus ride in which the passengers encounter one of nature’s creatures in the middle of the road; however, a closer reading reveals that the moose standing in the road blocking the vehicle‘s path becomes the representation of all that young Elizabeth holds dear. “The Moose” is a poem about leaving home. It is Bishop’s journey away from safety and away from security; away from the sacred.

The length of the poem resembles the length of the journey. We know by Bishop’s vivid description that in the beginning of the poem we are in her hometown in Nova Scotia along the Bay of Fundy. As the poem progresses, Bishop casually names the places in Canada where the bus stops to receive and let go of passengers. As night darkens, an older woman enters and we find that she, and presumably Bishop, will take the bus “all the way to Boston.” Finally after four pages of this five page poem the bus encounters a moose. The poem is broken up in to six-line stanzas, each line roughly about six meters. There is no set rhyme scheme; some stanzas have very regular end rhyme, while others have no rhyme at all, and still others have only one or two rhymes which may occur in various places. Yet the feel of the poem is not at all choppy, rather the poem itself has a physical feel of a bus ride, sometimes speeding up with regular rhyming, sometimes slowing down, while the steady meter keeps us moving along with Bishop.

From the start Bishop sets the tone of leaving home with her description of the bay. She imagines the bus riding through her hometown towards her house and past the bay that was so familiar to her. In the first stanza we see how “the bay leaves the sea…and takes the herring on long rides,” and later in the second stanza the bay is “not at home.” By the third stanza the bay becomes “a red sea” and Bishop begins to mix the imagery of home with the imagery of the sacred. She imagines the bus traveling towards her “past clapboard farmhouses / and neat, clapboard churches.” By the sixth stanza Bishop enters the bus and says goodbye to her family, her dog, her farm, her woods. In short: her home. She continues the mixing of the sacred and secular as “the fog…comes closing in…on the…lupins like apostles.”

Over the next few stanzas the imagery becomes very lonely. The landscape the bus passes by becomes “A pale flickering. Gone…” and later, “An iron bridge trembles…A dog gives one bark.” Until they enter the New Brunswick woods. Bishop hears “Grandparents’ voices…talking in Eternity.” They talk about misfortune and conclude that “’Life’s like that. We know it (also death).’” These grandparents remind Bishop of her own; they talk “the way they [Bishop’s maternal grandparents] talked.” They talked in “Eternity” where Bishop feels safe. Children exist in Eternity, they don’t think about anything but their current situation, their home is eternal, and their home is sacred. Bishop had already lost so much in her young life. She was probably very familiar with the “half groan, half acceptance / that means ‘Life’s like that…’” as loved ones took pity on her. And with thoughts of home she began to feel safe; “Now, it’s all right now / even to fall asleep.” But the bus “–Suddenly…stops with a jolt” and we finally meet the moose.

The image of the moose embodies everything Bishop feels that she is losing by leaving home. It comes out of “the impenetrable wood.” It comes from a place of mystery, a place that is eternal. It comes out of the natural world and confronts man as it “looms…in the middle of the road.” It is something that happens to the passive onlookers in the bus. Bishop describes the moose as “high as a church, / homely as a house / (or, safe as houses).” This moose becomes for Bishop her last connection to her childhood place of safety, the place that is “’Perfectly harmless…’” The place where the sacred and the secular are one, the place where home is an eternity. The moose is revealed to be “a she;” she becomes maternal, and yet she is still “otherworldly.” Bishop asks herself “why do we feel,” and she adds, “(we all feel) this sweet / sensation of joy?” The world of nature has a spiritual quality to it, “otherworldly,” and man’s encounter with a rarity of nature causes him to reflect on, perhaps even connect to, his sense of eternity. But the bus must move on, and Bishop is left with only a moment to look back upon her fading connection to home. The poem ends with Elizabeth being left with “a dim / smell of moose, an acrid / smell of gasoline.” The word “acrid” leaves a sense of overwhelming discomfort. As the moose represents Bishop’s home that she is leaving, the bus is the only image she has for the place she is going to. As the smell of home fades in the background, the “acrid smell” of her future overwhelms her. The poem ends with Bishop feeling overwhelming pain from leaving her home with her maternal grandparents.

In Bishop’s poem “The Fish” we once again have an incident of man’s interaction with a natural creature, only this time under very different circumstances, resulting in a different type of poem with different conclusions. This poem is a story of Bishop out fishing one day when she “caught a tremendous fish.” In “The Moose” the creature for whom the poem is titled doesn’t show up till the end, yet almost the whole of this poem is focused on her description of the fish she caught. This poem begins very much like a “fish story” in which the facts are exaggerated or simply not true. This is something common among fisherman and it suggests that Bishop may never have had an encounter with this fish, perhaps she simply dreamed him up one day while she was waiting for a bite. But whether or not he is real or imagined, what he represents for Bishop and what she comes to realize through him is a genuine experience of revelation and growth.

“The Fish” is a free verse poem with bits of alliteration scattered about. Bishop emphasizes important points in the poem by incorporating the use of repetition. The first of which is; “He didn’t fight. / He hadn’t fought at all.” Bishop is intruding into the fish’s world with her bait and hook. As the fish is caught, this time, he remains passive, he gives in to her. It is interesting to note that it was Bishop’s moose who walked out of his habitat and interrupted man’s world while the passengers on the bus remained passive onlookers. Here there is no “sweet sensation of joy” among a group of people, no feeling of the spiritual world mingling with the natural. This time it is only Bishop and the fish alone together. Yet as she looks upon this fish, she begins to describe him with a developing sense of respect and awe. In this poem Bishop is not being forced to leave the image of her home behind, rather she is in control. She holds the passive creature in her hands and begins to understand and relate to him in new ways.

At first Bishop begins to see the fish through her own terms and describes him in a familiar sense of home. She says “He hung a grunting weight, / battered and venerable / and homely.” She continues to use images that are like a home; “his brown skin hung in strips / like ancient wallpaper, / and its pattern of darker brown / was like wallpaper: / shapes like full-blown roses…the course white flesh / packed in like feathers.” Bishop continues to describe areas of the fish that would not be very pleasant to look at with the pleasant images of a home. Right in the middle of this type of analysis, she describes his gills; “–the frightening gills, / fresh and crisp with blood, / that can cut so badly–” She is trying to relate to the fish in terms she understands, in terms of a home, yet it is also as if she is saying that the home is not such an ideal place anymore. It is not as safe, perhaps, as a child may perceive it to be. The “frightening gills” are what a fish uses to breath, this fish is now drowning in air, and yet they “can cut so badly.” The need for a home is almost as great as the need to breathe, yet there are times a home can hurt you and make you bleed.

As Bishop looks “into his eyes” she begins to see the fish in a new way. The fish’s eyes “shifted a little, but not / to return [her] stare.” The fish is unresponsive to her. He is not intimidated by her; he is not concerned with her presence at all. He no longer seems as a passive victim; rather, he becomes patient, awaiting the next move. Bishop describes the fish’s eyes shifting as “more like the tipping / of an object toward the light.” The word “light” here could also carry the meaning of understanding. Bishop now begins to understand this fish on his own terms as she begins to describe him with masculine terms; she “admires his sullen face, / the mechanism of his jaw.” She begins to see him as a warrior; his lip, “if you could call it a lip,” becomes “grim, wet, and weaponlike.” The fish still has five hooks lodged into his mouth. All five hooks are still bearing the strings attached which the fish broke and snapped in previous struggles. We see that the fish is not so passive. That he has war wounds which he bears from past struggles to survive. To Bishop these hooks become “medals with their ribbons / frayed and wavering;” the fish is not only a warrior, he is a hero. He has survived the fight and shown himself worthy. She describes the strings as “a five-haired beard of wisdom / trailing from his aching jaw,” and the fish becomes an elder, an old wise man who commands respect and honor, who still feels an ache from his wounds. This fish, who has battled through life and survived, becomes the image of life itself to Bishop. We are not to be passive onlookers, waiting for our homes and spiritual peace to come to us; rather, we should be active partakers in life, gaining wisdom and understanding through our struggles as we bear the medals of each wound we survive. We cannot force life into a pattern that is safe for us, we must let life be what it may be, and learn to let go of what we cannot control.

At this revelation the poem dramatically moves from a concentrated focus on the fish to the larger picture. Bishop “stared and stared / and victory filled up / the little rented boat.” The victory is her new understanding of life she has received, or caught if you will, which is the dignity that the fish possesses. In “The Moose” the “acrid smell of gasoline” overwhelms the young Bishop; however, this time some spilled oil mixed in the bilge becomes a symbol of beauty as it makes a rainbow. The elderly “know it,” that “Life’s like that…(also death).” It is through our trials that we gain wisdom. The wounds we bear and survive, the pain that we face, ironically can add beauty to our life and dignity to our character. We need to find the wisdom to choose the right battles to fight and the wisdom to know when to let go with dignity. As Bishop expands her focus away from the fish, she continues to describe “the little rented boat,” and  Bishop’s revelation comes together as this free verse poem pulls together with the last four lines ending in rhyme:

     from the pool of bilge
     where oil had spread a rainbow
     around the rusted engine
     to the bailer rusted orange,
     the sun-cracked thwarts,
     the oarlocks on their strings,
     the gunnels–until everything
     was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
     And I let the fish go.

Bishop realizes that she can’t go back to making home a completely safe place anymore, that there are some parts of life that she must learn to accept on their own terms; she must learn their language. As she lets go of the fish, she lets go of her need for control and deep safety, and she is able to see the beauty of life despite its pain and struggle.

In each of these poems we see how an encounter with nature gave revelation to Elizabeth Bishop, and she was able to find answers to her heart‘s search. In “The Moose,” Bishop was a child taken by members of her father’s family from the home she knew and felt safe at. It is a testament to how sacred the home is to a child. Elizabeth shows through the imagery of this poem, through her image of the moose, how important it is to provide a place of safety and security to our children. Yet in “The Fish,” the adult Elizabeth comes to realize that life really isn’t a safe place, but neither is it an entirely bad place. As we grow up and learn from our mistakes, we find that we can embrace life for what it’s worth. We are able to gain wisdom and dignity through the trials we bear. When we accept life on its own terms, we learn when to take control and when to let go, and our eyes are free to open up and see the rainbows.

Peter L Richardson
20th Century Poets
October, 2003

The Moose
For Grace Bulmer Bowers

From narrow provinces
of fish and bread and tea,
home of the long tides
where the bay leaves the sea
twice a day and takes
the herrings long rides,

where if the river
enters or retreats
in a wall of brown foam
depends on if it meets
the bay coming in,
the bay not at home;

where, silted red,
sometimes the sun sets
facing a red sea,
and others, veins the flats’
lavender, rich mud
in burning rivulets;

on red, gravelly roads,
down rows of sugar maples,
past clapboard farmhouses
and neat, clapboard churches,
bleached, ridged as clamshells,
past twin silver birches,

through late afternoon
a bus journeys west,
the windshield flashing pink,
pink glancing off of metal,
brushing the dented flank
of blue, beat-up enamel;

down hollows, up rises,
and waits, patient, while
a lone traveller gives
kisses and embraces
to seven relatives
and a collie supervises.

Goodbye to the elms,
to the farm, to the dog.
The bus starts. The light
grows richer; the fog,
shifting, salty, thin,
comes closing in.

Its cold, round crystals
form and slide and settle
in the white hens’ feathers,
in gray glazed cabbages,
on the cabbage roses
and lupins like apostles;

the sweet peas cling
to their wet white string
on the whitewashed fences;
bumblebees creep
inside the foxgloves,
and evening commences.

One stop at Bass River.
Then the Economies
Lower, Middle, Upper;
Five Islands, Five Houses,
where a woman shakes a tablecloth
out after supper.

A pale flickering. Gone.
The Tantramar marshes
and the smell of salt hay.
An iron bridge trembles
and a loose plank rattles
but doesn’t give way.

On the left, a red light
swims through the dark:
a ship’s port lantern.
Two rubber boots show,
illuminated, solemn.
A dog gives one bark.

A woman climbs in
with two market bags,
brisk, freckled, elderly.
“A grand night. Yes, sir,
all the way to Boston.”
She regards us amicably.

Moonlight as we enter
the New Brunswick woods,
hairy, scratchy, splintery;
moonlight and mist
caught in them like lamb’s wool
on bushes in a pasture.

The passengers lie back.
Snores. Some long sighs.
A dreamy divagation
begins in the night,
a gentle, auditory,
slow hallucination. . . .

In the creakings and noises,
an old conversation
–not concerning us,
but recognizable, somewhere,
back in the bus:
Grandparents’ voices

uninterruptedly
talking, in Eternity:
names being mentioned,
things cleared up finally;
what he said, what she said,
who got pensioned;

deaths, deaths and sicknesses;
the year he remarried;
the year (something) happened.
She died in childbirth.
That was the son lost
when the schooner foundered.

He took to drink. Yes.
She went to the bad.
When Amos began to pray
even in the store and
finally the family had
to put him away.

“Yes . . .” that peculiar
affirmative. “Yes . . .”
A sharp, indrawn breath,
half groan, half acceptance,
that means “Life’s like that.
We know it (also death).”

Talking the way they talked
in the old featherbed,
peacefully, on and on,
dim lamplight in the hall,
down in the kitchen, the dog
tucked in her shawl.

Now, it’s all right now
even to fall asleep
just as on all those nights.
–Suddenly the bus driver
stops with a jolt,
turns off his lights.

A moose has come out of
the impenetrable wood
and stands there, looms, rather,
in the middle of the road.
It approaches; it sniffs at
the bus’s hot hood.

Towering, antlerless,
high as a church,
homely as a house
(or, safe as houses).
A man’s voice assures us
“Perfectly harmless. . . .”

Some of the passengers
exclaim in whispers,
childishly, softly,
“Sure are big creatures.”
“It’s awful plain.”
“Look! It’s a she!”

Taking her time,
she looks the bus over,
grand, otherworldly.
Why, why do we feel
(we all feel) this sweet
sensation of joy?

“Curious creatures,”
says our quiet driver,
rolling his r’s.
“Look at that, would you.”
Then he shifts gears.
For a moment longer,

by craning backward,
the moose can be seen
on the moonlit macadam;
then there’s a dim
smell of moose, an acrid
smell of gasoline.

Elizabeth Bishop

The Fish

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled and barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
–the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly–
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
–It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
–if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels–until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

Elizabeth Bishop

Has Huck Got Religion?

November 13, 2010

The Spiritual Journey of Huckleberry Finn  

Religion consists in a set of things which the average man thinks he believes, and wishes he was certain.
– Mark Twain, Notebook, 1879

It is pretty clear that Mark Twain was not a big supporter of religion; it is also pretty clear that he was not very fond of humanity as a whole. Twain once said, “Such is the human race. Often it does seem such a pity that Noah and his party did not miss the boat.” Yet in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn there can be found a spiritual theme deep within the character of Huckleberry Finn; this boy is not just a troubled kid making his way down the Mississippi River who happens to fall into chance adventure; I believe Huck represents a subconscious glimmer of hope that Mark Twain had for humanity. Huck’s journey down the river can even be viewed as an analogy of a spiritual baptism that Huck undergoes. In baptism, a person is submerged under water, symbolizing his death, and he rises up as new person possessing a life of hope and purpose. Huckleberry Finn is an abused child of an alcoholic father who is forced to fake his own death and escape his father by traveling down the Mississippi River. The river could symbolize Huck’s baptism and by the end of the book, after a series of circumstances that cause Huck to grow and mature, he emerges as a new man.

Twain states right off in his introduction that “persons attempting to find a moral in [this narrative] will be banished” (2). Perhaps the author wanted to downplay the spiritual analogy, or perhaps the author wasn’t even aware of it himself; his pen being guided by the hand of Providence just as Huck and Jim were being guided down the river. There is a certain amount of coincidence that is necessary in any work of fiction, yet in Huckleberry Finn there are greater forces at work that guide Huck and Jim to each adventure. Every time Huck finds himself on land he is exposed to negative circumstances, yet just as often an unusual coincidence helps Huck make his escape back to the river all the more wise and mature. Before Huck even thinks about his upcoming adventures, he is already able to distinguish between traditional religion and the principles of truth. Huck tells us: 

“Sometimes the widow would take me one side and talk about Providence in a way to make a body’s mouth water; but maybe next day Miss Watson would take hold and knock it all down again. I judged I could see that there were two Providences, and a poor chap would stand considerable show with the widow’s Providence, but if Miss Watson’s got him there waren’t no help for him any more. I thought it all out, and reckoned I would belong to the widow’s if he wanted me…” (12).

It is this Providence that Huck commits to which guides him through the Mississippi and through each adventure he has. It is also this Providence that brings Huck to Jim; they were already tied together as it was Huck’s supposed death that caused Jim to run in the first place. It is when he teams up with Jim that Huck begins his spiritual growth into a new man. Jim becomes a father figure to Huck and teaches him about family and relationship. Huck reveals he is in the very beginning of his growth when, after offending Jim, he is able to “humble [himself] to a nigger” and apologize (84).

Huck and Jim miss their turn at the Ohio River and so miss the opportunity to free Jim and part ways. This again can be seen as the hand of Providence, if they were to part ways it surely would have ended the growth of character Huck was experiencing. Instead they are thrust down the Mississippi, deeper into the South and deeper into harm‘s way, where they end up in one adventure after another in which Huck observes the dark side of humanity and is tempted and challenged through many trials. After their raft is struck by a steamboat, Huck survives by submerging deep into the river and when he surfaces he cannot find Jim and believes him to be dead. He is taken in by the Grangerford’s, a good family who happen to be feuding with another family by the name of the Shepherdson’s. The feud was apparently started from offended pride, and the families can’t even remember who made the first offense but neither is willing to make peace. Eventually, Huck watches his new friend, Buck Grangerford, sacrifice himself for a completely pointless feud. The word, Grangerford, represents “farmer” and Shepherdson represents “sheep herder”, making the families analogous to Cain and Able. Their feud represents to Huck the foolishness of the feuding amongst all of mankind. Huck observes the fruit of unforgiveness and learns how ancient traditions keep men from living in peace.

After Huck flees the feuding, he and Jim reunite, but they end up with a couple of “rapscallions,” a “King” and a “Duke.” The King and the Duke are a couple of con-men who take over the raft that Jim and Huck have been traveling on. Huck learns all kinds of schemes from them, and other than the nuisance they are on the raft, Huck doesn’t seem too put off by their scandalous ways. That is until they take a scam too far and try to steal the inheritance from a group of orphaned sisters. Huck is quite taken by one of them, and seeing that they are good people, he decides to steal the money back for the girls. He does this at great risk to himself; if he’s caught, it will be assumed he is just trying to steal the money, and he also risks abuse from the King and the Duke. Huck learns to make sacrifices to protect those he cares for; he also learns that doing the right thing doesn’t always have a good result. Despite trying to help, Huck ends up being accused along with the King and the Duke when their scam is discovered. Though he escapes, so do they, and he and Jim are once again stuck with them on the raft. Huck knows by now that these two deserve justice for their crimes, yet he is still able to see the dignity that every human being deserves. When the King and Duke are finally captured they are tarred and feathered and led off to die. Even after they sell Jim away from Huck, he is able to have compassion for them, lamenting that “human beings can be awful cruel to one another” (222).

The culmination of Huck’s growth and maturity is summed up in his statement, “You can’t pray a lie.” After discovering Jim has been sold, Huck wonders whether or not he has done the right thing in helping him in the first place. Huck’s conscious is being challenged by the traditions and conventions of his time. Many Southern “Christians” at the time Twain was writing had perverted the gospel to justify the sin of American slavery. Huck had seen the hypocrisy of man, but he was taught that its falsehood was truth. While considering whether to write Miss Watson and turn Jim in, Huck feels the guilt of her False Providence condemning him: “…here was the plain hand of Providence slapping me in the face and letting me know my wickedness was being watched all the time…” (204). Huck tries to pray and ask to be “good” enough to betray Jim, but he can’t do it. He knows that in his heart he does not regret helping him. Not only can Huck not lie to himself, but he cannot lie to God either, yet it is not that Huck can’t hide his “sin” of helping Jim from God; it is, in fact, the Truth which has grown in Huck’s heart refusing to be hidden and emerging through Huck’s conscious. Huck tries to write a letter to Miss Watson, and then pray. At first he feels better, but his bond with Jim keeps him recalling moments of the love that had grown between them. Huck cannot hide from his heart, which tells him that helping Jim was truly the right thing to do, though he honestly believes that his actions are damnable. Huck’s conscious wins; Huck rejects all Southern tradition and convention. He is led by his compassion for Jim and sacrifices his eternal soul for his friend. Huck tears up the letter and declares, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell” (206). Jesus, referring to his sacrifice for mankind, declared that “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (The Gospel of John 15:13). Though still a boy in years, Huck now emerges from the river a new man, fully mature in his spirit. Huck made the ultimate sacrifice for Jim; despite believing that he would be condemned to hell, Huck still refused to turn Jim in.

True Providence, the widow’s Providence, guided Huck and Jim down the river and caused Huck to grow and mature. Huck “died” from the dysfunctional heritage of his father; he learned a lifetime of truth on his raft, and he emerged from the water a changed person. It is evident in his relationship with Aunt Sally; what else but Providence could land Jim and Huck at the home of relatives of Huck’s good friend, Tom Sawyer? And, with Tom on his way to visit! Huck is able to receive her maternal care and even comes to respect and honor her out of love and not out of fear. Huck is concerned about her feelings, and deters himself from sneaking out one night so she would not worry. The Huck Finn at the beginning of the book would not have been so considerate. Huck’s comment to Aunt Sally about no one dieing on the steamboat accident, just a couple “niggers,” can easily be explained. Huck was in character. He was still pretending to be Tom Sawyer, and often on his journey with Jim, he spoke of him in such derogatory terms with strangers so as not to be found out. The only thing lacking in Huck at this point is self-confidence. Freeing Jim is just a game for Tom Sawyer, but for Huck it a matter of his conscious calling him to do the right thing, and his love for Jim. Even though Huck still trusts Tom’s ideas over his own, he only wants to see his friend get free and live with dignity.

The book ends with Huck almost independently wealthy since he is able to claim his reward money. His rejection of Aunt Sally’s adoption is not a rejection of all of humanity, rather he is simply rejecting man’s traditions and conventions that civilization has come to represent to him. Huck doesn’t try to escape civilization by returning to the safety and solitude of the river. Instead he is confident enough in himself to head out west, ahead of the settlers. He becomes a frontiersman, a leader to his fellow man, forging a new path for humanity to walk in. Huckleberry Finn represents the rejection of the traditions and conventions of “civilization” that cause us to be in separate factions and create fighting and general chaos. The ability to look at the heart of the matter and simply do the right thing; this is the legacy that Huckleberry Finn leaves behind; this is the faint glimmer of hope for humanity that flashed in the heart of Mark Twain.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain. C.1981, Bantam Books.

Peter L Richardson
July, 2003

Identity Crisis,

September 18, 2010

…a short autobiographical reflection on Adolescence.

Pete & Grandpop

During the transition from childhood to adulthood adolescents are faced with many new challenges in life. Not only are they changing rapidly physically but they are developing mentally as well. For the first time they find themselves pondering deeper questions such as “Who am I?” or “What is my place in life?” No longer comfortable in the role of a child and not yet an adult, adolescents are searching for places to fit in, searching for answers to questions of meaning and purpose, seeking to define who they are. In short; they are searching for identity. People who come from a strong and stable family and live in a healthy environment will experience the least anxiety about who they are. However, families that are broken or dysfunctional or even just unable to define a strong set of beliefs will most likely leave a child distraught and searching for structure and meaning in life. While there are definite skills and strategies parents can learn to help bridge their children into adulthood, the reality is that no family is perfect. Every person must face the challenge life offers to discover what he is made of and what he believes in.

Although they have managed to get past their problems, my parents were in conflict with each other when I was an adolescent, so I was unable to find any sense of identity from my family. After my sixth grade year I left a private school were everyone pretty much looked the same and moved to a public school in the seventh grade. This was a culture shock for me and it was really the first time that identity became an issue for me. Not because it was something I thought about, much less tried to define, but rather because “identity” was something that happened to me.

In the seventh grade I was still a boy. I didn’t fit in with most of the kids in school, but I found a group in which to find shelter with. We discovered that if you didn’t bother the popular kids or the bad kids, they pretty much left you alone. All we were interested in was getting through the day, so we could get home to our afterschool cartoons. When we got together, we played GI Joe, our bikes were still used for pleasure, and the topic of conversation was often about who would win if Batman or Spiderman would get in a fight. And I think we were genuinely happy. 

Eighth grade was when I discovered that girls weren’t really icky. But this new awareness also brought me to my discovery of who I was. Plain and simple, I was a geek. I couldn’t help but notice who was getting the girls attention, as well as notice the huge gulfs between us that marked our differences. I accepted my fate and took my place among the geeks and the nerds, but I wasn’t happy any longer.

Before ninth grade came around, I decided that I needed to be cool. I was tired of being teased and abused. I had already tried my hand with the upper class popular kids and was laughed out of that crowd, so I turned to the rebels of my generation; I had become a Headbanger. We were the kids with long hair, in black heavy metal t-shirts, jeans, jean jackets and boots, no matter how hot or how cold it got. We were the rebels of our time, but even then I knew the truth about us, we were all rejects of some form and we found this tough guy persona in order to hide our pain. Most of us were good kids, but once you adopt an identity like that in a culture that is full of stereotypes, you fall into what the expectations are for your group. By the end of ninth grade I was cutting most of my classes and getting stoned on a pretty frequent basis. I practically failed my freshman year, but that was okay; the important thing was that I had friends who were cool and nobody abused us. Besides, why would I want to identify myself with a bunch of snobs who were too good for me? I wanted nothing to do with their world and this society that centered on their selfish material interests and popularity games, so college and high school were of no importance to me.

Ironically, my drug use helped me find my way back to something like a purpose in life. Somewhere in tenth grade, I realized that I didn’t really like heavy metal all that much, but I had discovered some really good music from the late sixties and early seventies. I unconsciously molded into a hippie, but I was still stuck in the late eighties. I liked the concept of peace and love, and I admired the previous generation’s attempts to “change the world,” but I saw their attempts as failures. I discovered Jim Morrison of the Doors, and I began reading his poetry and tried to decipher his words. Jim Morrison was aware of the hypocrisy of his generation. He saw that mankind on his own was unable to create any true society of “peace and love.” He didn’t offer any solutions, but he made clear the problems in his time. He was also interested in spirituality and, to put it mildly, was a bit obsessed with the afterlife. Soon I started reading works by authors and poets who influenced Morrison, and in turn I began my own search for meaning and truth in this life. I also began writing my own poetry and expressed the ideas of my search through my works. I had slipped into an identity of a poet-philosopher, and I was completely at home there. I used to joke with my friends that it was too bad you couldn’t get paid to sit around and think, like those old guys from ancient Greece, but I really didn’t have any direction or confidence in myself.  Eventually, my poetry gained the attention of one of my teachers who made a large impact on my life. She took an interest in my work and challenged me to do something with my ideas.

“If there’s so much wrong with the world,” she would say, “why don’t you do something to change it.”  I would always answer her that there was no use; no one can really make any difference. In time she became a mentor for me and her praise instilled confidence in my abilities and added self-esteem to my identity. One day she boldly asked me if she had made any difference in my life. I answered in an absolute affirmative, and she asked why I thought I couldn’t do the same for someone else. She made me realize that since she impacted my life for the better, that human beings, including myself, really could make a difference in the world, even if it was just a few people at a time. She was the first person to plant the idea of teaching in my head. Though it has grown and been refined, this is the main identity that has stuck with me throughout the years. Because she saw something of worth in who I was, she made me realize the value in who I could become. I learned that my potential is much greater than the weaknesses that hold me back as long I keep the vision before me and continue to walk it out. I was lucky enough to receive these foundational principles in my identity as a teenager; they have stuck with me, and they have helped me define my beliefs and have helped to build my confidence in the man I am today.

Peter L Richardson
Fall, 2002

“These boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do; One of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you…”
                         -Nancy Sinatra

In 50 years women will rule the world. I first noticed this disturbing trend while teaching one of my honors classes. As I looked around during a debate all I could really see was soft skin, big bright eyes, and hair flowing from all angles of the room. Each side took their stance and began their arguments with poise and grace; the pitch of their voices rose higher and higher as the debate raged on. Pastels and perfume crowded my senses. The sugar and spice estrogen in the room was so thick, my head started to spin. 

“Where are all the boys?” I wondered. I had completely lost track of the debate. I didn’t know which side was winning; I didn’t care. All I could think about was why wasn’t I hearing nary an adam’s apple among all this talking? Of course there were a few males bedecked about the room; but none of them seemed to have an interest, much less an opinion, about whatever human issue was the focus on this unit’s debate. Were they silent because there was so few of them? And why were there so few males in an honors class anyway? Upon closer inspection, I found that not only were there less males in my honors classes, but the majority of the females outperformed every one of them. In each class the top student was a female every time, and she was usually ahead of the males by a significant number of points. I raised my concerns in the faculty lunch room and found the trend was happening in all subject areas!

We have generations of history that proves men are intellectually superior to women, so this can’t be an issue of man lacking the ability to rise to the occasion. I had to discover what the cause of this mental impotence could be. I interviewed several of my male students and the conclusive evidence is as simple as it is disturbing. They were just lazy: “But Mr. Richardson, I don’t feel like doing that much work!”  “But why should I worry about it? My mommy does everything for me anyway!” “But I don’t have time to do any work! I have to play Madden and World of Warcraft!” These young men were adamant that their time was somehow used wisely and they shrugged me off as some old curmudgeon who was outdated and antiquated. Women who are dissatisfied with their male bosses taking credit for their ideas, and their male coworkers making more money for less work need not be frustrated much longer. They need only wait for this generation of VPs and CEOs to retire or die.  There will be few males, if any, competent enough to take their places.

Who is to blame in this disturbing trend of male incompetence? Obviously not men! The feminists have taken the feminine out of female, and as a result men are left emasculated. What started as liberation has become full blown revolution! It started subtle, but women have slowly been taking over for decades now. It began with an infiltration of the universities. While most men were out doing physical labor and fighting in wars, women slowly began to over-populate the institutions that shape the next generation of world leaders. I remember an incident in the 90s on the campus of University of Delaware when I ignorantly committed a heinous crime against women. I was exiting a dormitory and I held the door open for the person behind me. She grabbed it out of my hands and snapped, “What? You think I’m too weak to push open a door?!” She muttered expletives as she walked away. I was dumbfounded. I was frozen in speech and in step. Women have crossed the line of gaining equality with men to becoming exactly the same as men in everyway. Think of Angelina Jolie. The truth is, girls that kick ass are sexy. Guys line up in droves to see this female action hero of the new millennium, but gentlemen, what are you going to do when your woman is able to kick your fat couch-potato-ass? Are you ready to be the mansel in distress? Are you ready to be dominated and tied to all four corners of the bed? Perhaps I’m overreacting: Only men watch those movies anyway, you’re probably thinking, chick still just dig chick flicks! Not so anymore. Take a break from the Xbox 360, and flip through the cable listings. Look at the Lifetime Channel: “Television for women, by women.” The sappy chick flicks are steadily being replaced by Resident Evil and similar movies with a heroine that is as hard and bad ass as any man ever was. Take a look at the content of the popular series, Sex in the City. If you could stop paying attention to Kim Katrell’s boobs for a minute you will see that these chicks are just men without penises. They live out every male’s fantasy as they move from lover to lover without consequence. No more girls crying at the bedside, they are the one’s sneaking out in the middle of the night these days. No more worries about inconvenient babies in the age of easy access abortion! But what if she wants a baby? Consider Jennifer Aniston’s new movie, The Switch.  What’s the point of getting a man involved in the first place? Kids don’t really need a dad anyway. They just sit around, drink beer, watch sports, play video games, and search online porn (What? It’s not cheating, if there’s no physical contact, right?). Gentlemen, how did we get to this point? It is not an easy pill to swallow, but I may have the answer.

Consider this: Single Moms and Sugar-Ma-Mas. Gentlemen, while you thought you have been riding the gravy train, the fact of the matter is that women have gotten used to living without your help. Single Moms have had to learn to cope and survive without any help from “dad.” They have found out they can have successful careers, and even though daycare is raising their children, it’s better than dealing with some inconsistent bum who doesn’t show any of them any affection anyway, or worse, spends his time abusing the ones he supposedly loves. But some guys still know how to “treat” their women. They got game where it counts and they make their women feel like natural women for at least 10 minutes at time. They take pride in all the Sugar-Ma-Mas they acquire. More and more these men are becoming dependant on their Sugar-Ma-Mas. These young boys spend all day smoking weed and playing Call of Duty instead of discovering their own call and stepping up to their own duties. They think they live the thug life, but they wouldn’t survive without the naïve and generous resources of their multiple female partners. The truth is, men, you simply aren’t needed anymore. What is the result of this disturbing trend? If nothing is done to turn the tide, I predict that within one to two generations the male species will be reduced to slaves and pets whose only real value will be for grunt labor, physical pleasure, and sperm donation to keep the earth populated.  

But gentlemen, before you punch a hole in the wall, or lose yourself in a stupor of alcohol, or begin to passively aggressively ignore your partner, fear not! I have a solution! I have spent much time observing the situation and there is only one course of action that can be taken. Women have spent the last half century learning to how to fill the manly roles you abandoned, but they still have one fatal weakness. They still are not immune to emotion. Men, the secret is simple. Talk to them. Ask them how they feel, and really listen to the answer. Women will let you into their deepest darkest secrets if they sense they can trust you. But to listen, you must be present. Tell your homies you gotta go. Get off the streets, stop dealing drugs and get a real job. Show your woman you can be relied on. Turn off you Xbox and do your homework. Begin to work your way back into the universities. Learn the pride and self-respect of accomplishment. Learn the art of Chivalry again; regain your strength and manhood. Use it to protect her and not to abuse her; open up the door for her and pull out her chair. She secretly loves it, but fears giving you that kind of power. Show her you can be trusted with power by being man enough to share that power in equality: Be vulnerable with her. Show her you will love, honor and respect her for who she is and not just use her for what she can give. Take back the children you spawned and be a father to them. Teach them to be responsible adults. Teach your sons how to respect themselves and how to respect women. Teach them how to love a woman and not just use her for a cheap orgasm. Teach your daughters how to love and respect their future men. It is a simple task: just be a man that your daughter can love and respect. Show her how she should expect to be treated by her man through the way you treat her mother.

Gentlemen, with these simple steps we can turn back the tide and restore balance to the universe. Only you can accomplish this deed! Only you can make the difference! Only you can make the change! The only way is to be there for your children so you can influence them the right way. The only thing that should stand between you and your child is death. Think about it. A day where every child has a father and a mother who loves him and teaches him how to give instead of take. Every child living in security knowing that both parents who conceived her have her back and will encourage her to reach her fullest potential. It is possible, but only if today’s men step up.  

“It seems to me that it is men more than women who today have to become knights and honorable. If enough honorable men stand up, that’ll be a quiet revolution. That’ll produce stable families and stable children who will take over the world.”  -Peter Kreeft, http://www.worldmag.com/articles/16886

Peter L Richardson
8/16/10

Freedom Outreach: A ministry of caring relationships among friends in the city. Passion for Christ. Compassion for People. Period.

Playing in Riverside.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27

It all started with Rachel Coates: “You should volunteer for our Easter  Party.”

“But I don’t do little kids,” I said, “I’m called to teens and young adults.”

“Still, you should come and help. These kids are awesome.”

I felt the usual immediate satisfaction of serving God; after all, “it is better to give than to receive.” However, it was a slow progress for these kids to work their way into my heart. Because of a faithful few volunteers, a few of the kids who were at the party were actually regulars at our church service. It only took one time for us to meet before they would run up to me at church with joy and ask to sit with me during worship and to make me play with them after the service. Eventually, one of them asked, “How come you don’t play with us during the week?”

Freedom Outreach is an organization based at Vineyard Christian Fellowship. Volunteers from the church and community have the opportunity go into the projects of Wilmington, Delaware, including Riverside and Southbridge, once a week and play with the children in the neighborhood. The goal is to simply build relationship with the children on their turf, the places where they call home. Freedom Outreach also organizes bigger events like holiday parties held at the church, and Vacation Bible Schools and annual barbeques held in the neighborhoods. Once leaders in the organization build relationship with the children and their families, they are invited to a session at Camp Josiah in Port Jarvis, New York. The church partnerships with the camp and some members of the church sponsor individual children to help pay their way to camp, and the kids also help raise money for themselves through fundraiser like carwashes. One major goal of Freedom Outreach is to mentor the children until they are teens and then train them to become mentors themselves.

Building castles at Camp Josiah.

Becoming a regular volunteer for Freedom Outreach was pretty tough for me at first. The kids were tugging on my heart, but I had my own children to worry about, and I thought for sure with my busy schedule, the Lord would let me off the hook. But between the Lord and the kids working on me, I moved from just helping out with special events, to going up to play with the kids in their neighborhood on a weekly basis. God quickly began to bless me through it, but not in a way I expected. Between my job as a high school teacher, and working on my masters in an attempt to earn more income for the future, and helping to raise two boys as a single dad, life was full of stress. However, here was two hours a week I could just play with kids and not think about anything else. Instead of having one more thing on my schedule, playing with the kids in Riverside became a break that I looked forward to each week.

The kids have also kept me humble. It was hard to complain about American lower-middle-class frustrations when I got a weekly dose of the realities of poverty these kids face. Some have moms and dads in jail or on drugs or even both. Some have parents or guardians who are struggling to do their best for the kids they love, but they just can’t get ahead of their past mistakes. Either way, most of these kids have been exposed to, and even been victims of, the darkness of mankind’s soul way too early in life.

Because of the environment they live in, they can often be very challenging, but it is amazing to discover the childlike beauty that is still in action in even the most hardhearted of the children. When I see the wonder of imagination and the magic of their hearts at work in them, it enables me to have greater compassion for my at-risk students, only a few years older, when they act out in my classroom in anger and fear. I know these students once did not feel the need to smother the magic that is still hiding within them. When I see the courage these kids need to face life every day, it teaches me not to judge their adult counterparts who came to age living in the same fear and neglect. Despite the many disappointments these children experience, I can still see hope glimmering in their eyes, and after a time I have felt the genuine love that some of them have come to trust me with, and I came to realize what loving your neighbor truly means.

When I spend time in the city, John Wesley often echoes in my brain: “But for the grace of God, there go I.” For what is God’s grace to us were it not for the people he has sent into our lives to be his hands and feet and even his mouth? If more kids and even adults can learn there is a better way of life, a road to freedom that our God teaches us, the cycle of poverty can be broken in their families. Many Freedom Outreach kids are growing into mature children of God, and it is a blessed thing to be a witness of; however, many more still seem to slip through the cracks. It is hard for seed to take root in concrete and asphalt; however, when the seed is watered by love and truth from a caring person; the stone can erode and crumble into ground soft and tilled, and God can create miracles that cause roses to bloom.

If you would like more information regarding Freedom Outreach, or would like to support the ministry in anyway please go to:  http://www.vcfbarn.com/service/freedom-outreach/ 

Peter L Richardson
7/9/2010