All the World's a Classroom
Thinking is a private act and one’s inner life is singularly one’s own. But while there is no twin to our mind—no other mind can mirror the totality of our thoughts—it can find partial reflections in others. This alone can invigorate the whole being.
I’m talking about a phenomenon where one can resonate with another’s thoughts.
There is an experiment that has left an impression on my mind from younger years. In Physics, resonance occurs when a wave or vibration induces a synchronous vibration in a neighboring object. When you strike a tuning fork nearby another identical tuning fork, the former will induce vibration in the latter and yield the same pitch.
Here’s a demo video from MIT on the experiment:
Whenever I hear the word “resonance” or say “I resonate with you”, this is the image that appears in my mind. It is something like the words in the Les Miserables song,
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drum
I love thinking and reading by myself. What’s even greater though is being able to talk about those thoughts, about what I’ve read with someone who gets it, who understands and shares my excitement, and then supplements the thoughts. I gain a lot of mental energy from this.
My sharp friend Amy is one of these special people in my life. The other day we were on the phone gushing about Bryan Stevenson, books and community, and prison ministry. How awesome. Every girl needs a pal like this!
The process of thinking is solitary. But the fruits of thinking are meant to be communal. Herein lies the miracle: instead of having less, these fruits multiply when shared.
Image credit: nightwolfdezines at Vecteezy
Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes the sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
The song “For Good” from Stephen Schwartz’s popular musical, Wicked, sings to the alteration in one’s life trajectory as a result of meeting another person. I love the imagery the lines create: when a force or the momentum from a chance encounter or collision with an object causes something to travel in a slightly different direction.
As much as with people, this phenomenon also happens with books. A single book can open your eyes and make an impact such that you cannot return to who you were before. Your path forward then takes on a different shape.
Most recently, my orbit-altering sun was a book titled Just Mercy. Bryan Stevenson was my white rabbit signaling me to the world of the incarcerated, the poor, and the condemned. I followed the trail onward to Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman, and other related articles. I was getting an education in the legacy of slavery and racism in our society, and the many shapes it materializes into.
Along the way I learned about women, children, and the mentally ill in prison—the vulnerable that tends to be the most defenseless in the case of abuse. I learned about the lack of sanitary pads or tampons for incarcerated women and their monthly humiliation. I learned about the difficulty of re-starting life after prison, where employers avoid those with criminal records, which then can cause people to spiral in debt. Here is a world where being poor can be a crime.
Last week, when sorting through stacks of magazines, I wondered if there was an alternative to dropping them off at Goodwill. Maybe I could donate them to a prison library or a juvenile detention facility. I then came across Chicago Books to Women in Prison, whose work does exactly as its name says. Books, women issues, and prison—it seemed like a perfect convergence of what I’ve been learning this year.
The timing was perfect because they hold trainings for new volunteers on the last Sunday of each month. So on Sunday, my husband and I went over and volunteered for a few hours. It was a powerful experience.
Chicago BWP receives letters from incarcerated women from detention facilities around the country. In them, the women indicate their preferred genres or specific titles, and occasionally, tidbits about themselves. The volunteers then would try to match their requests, find the books from the shelves (not as easy as I expected), add a little note (optional, but recommended), and package them for mail. People would help by taking what they can to the post office. It’s quite a system, and they have many dedicated volunteers.
There, they also keep a box of letters from inmates saying how grateful they are for the books they have received. The books are like a light to them…
I can’t easily describe the experience, but the human connection from holding the letters in my hand impacts me deeply. I know they were not addressed to me, but somehow, they arrived in my hands. Some of them have dreams to accomplish after their release, some are well read, and some have really nice handwriting. I said a little prayer for each letter I worked on.
Books are so important to me as a source of knowledge, insight, pleasure, and relief from the ‘real world’. I’d want to believe they could be those too and much more within prison walls. I know how a book can change my life. I hope that those mailed books may change some lives too, for the better.
Needless to say, we will be back to Chicago BWP.
Image by Edukeralam, Navaneeth Krishnan S (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Image source here.
Of all creatures living on this earth, none is more deserving of hatred than mosquitoes. With their buzzing in your ear and biting into your vein, no wonder a small feeling of victory follows when you’ve successfully slapped them dead: you have just saved humanity one or more mosquito bites.
I am dessert for mosquitoes. My blood is like sweet, creamy tiramisu that they smoothly swallow without chewing. I worked in the garden once—not that I do it often—and covered myself in eucalyptus bug spray. Not the best smelling stuff. But I made the mistake of only spraying my exposed skin. Five minutes later, I got 2 bites through my legging. I mean, seriously?!
The most annoying part about revenge, the you-eat-me-I-kill-you philosophy, is the irreversibility of the bites. I still suffer for an extended amount of time whether the vampire lives or not.
Further, notwithstanding the ease of annihilating a mosquito that’s drunk with blood, acting upon it would literally result in blood on my hands. My own blood, probably. I’d still do it, but what a waste of blood…
Growing up in Indonesia, the land where mosquitoes abound, means cohabitating with mosquitoes. In my house, it’s hard to isolate the living rooms from mosquitoes since they are exposed to the outside one way or another. Bedrooms are sanctuaries—we try very hard to keep them out. This means that doors are always closed and we enter/exit the rooms as swiftly as possible. When a mosquito gets in, we go to war. We will not sleep until it’s dead.
There are things I must do in the living areas though. The worst one is the hour-long piano practice. I might as well offer my blood in golden bowls. For an hour, I’d be a captive victim for mosquitoes to feast on. To mitigate this, I’d wear long sleeves, top and bottom. But this is Indonesia. It’s hot and humid, morning and evening. So there I was, fully clothed, hot, itching, and playing piano. No wonder I hated almost all of my piano pieces.
Mosquitoes and Technology
The war against mosquitoes can be won with the right weapons. Our weapon of choice is the electrified mosquito-zapper racket. I remember an earlier version of the racket with a single layer of horizontal grids. It helped, but some of the tiny vampires flew through them. They might have evolved to be skinnier when these rackets came out, who knows. Then the improved version came out with triple layers of horizontal and vertical grids. Now these babies get them 100%. If you swing at a mosquito, it will surely die.
We also had this trap fluorescent lamp that was shaped like a cage. Mosquitoes would be attracted to the light and fly into the cage, then be zapped by the electrical rods inside. Suckers.
Part of my coming to America, the land of the free, is gaining freedom from mosquitoes. I can move freely, hang out in any part of the house, and not be haunted by blood-sucking creatures. I mean, I can leave my bedroom door open…how amazing is that?
When I see mosquitoes, probably because I engage in activities that seek them out, I notice that they fly slower here than their Indonesian cousins. It makes them easier to kill, but their proclivity to eating me is all the same.
A NYT article cites the World Health Organization, “mosquitoes remain the deadliest animal on the planet, carrying diseases like West Nile, chikungunya, and malaria that kill more than a million people a year.” Apparently, hating mosquitoes is completely justified.
Mosquitoes, I hate you.
This post was conceived during recent camping trips.