Category Archives: news

Resolve to listen in 2018

park, Harrisonburg VA

Like a walk in the woods, listening is good exercise.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. In general, I think they are just so much hype without much substance. For those who are serious about such resolutions, however, I wish you the very best at keeping and meeting those New Year challenges.

Not making resolutions doesn’t mean I don’t desire to improve the world and myself. I do with all my heart. I’ve discovered in my many years of living that it takes more than wishing.

Drive and desire are key ingredients to making the world a better place for all of us to live. And by all of us, I mean every single human being. In the eyes of the Maker, we all have equal worth. Those are His words, not mine.

With that in mind, I want 2018 to be the best year yet. Given the world’s troubles, that’s going to take the work of all of us to help make that happen.

That’s the thing with resolutions. They tend to be too individualized. However, working together creates a more substantial margin for success. If we want to improve the world, we have to help one another.

Let’s agree to make our surroundings more beautiful, peaceful, kind, inviting, welcoming. I can’t do it alone. I’ll need lots of help. You and you and you. Regardless of our political affiliations, religion, race, ethnic background, one by one we can together resolve to bring peace to this too troubled world.

We don’t all have to agree on how that gets done. Too often the details are what derail us from accomplishing anything good at all. Forget the details. If we are clear on the aim and outcome, a legitimate process is required. It doesn’t have to be complicated, however.

As ordinary citizens, we need to strive to do better than the ballyhooed politicians for our families, our communities, our country, our globe, and ourselves. It’s the least we can do for our children, our grandchildren, and all the generations to come.

conversation, listening

Listening requires full focus and attention of all our being.

What’s my grandiose plan for this noble goal of reconciliation and harmony? You and you and you, and me. Together we can help soften the rancor in the world if we only take time to listen to what others are saying, asking, claiming, even accusing. Yes. That’s it. Just genuinely listen to one another. It doesn’t have to be an inquisition, merely face-to-face listening. After hearing the other, ask clarifying questions to ensure understanding. And with that knowledge, we ask more delving questions.

I don’t intend noisiness. I mean sincere inquisitiveness that leads to a mutual understanding of each other. And yes, in the end, we may still respectfully disagree. But just because we may differ on how we see a given situation, listening should not lead to denigrating the other person or the belief they hold. Dialogue should lead to mutual respect for one another. Our integrity as human beings depends on it.

If we agree to focus on clarity of issues, truly listen to one another, and respond with personal respect and understanding, perhaps we can make not only our lives but also the lives of those we affect a tad better, conversation by conversation.

In 2018, can we all at least resolve to try to improve the world by listening without judging? Besides making the world a better, safer place, wouldn’t that also make each one of us better people, too?

I’m ready to listen. How about you?

Silver Lake, Dayton VA

Listening and understanding without judgement create a quiet beauty even on a cloudy day.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2018

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Read all the news that wasn’t in 2017

windmills, WV, MD

Giant windmills line the crests of many mountain ridges in WV and MD.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Stories that flew under the radar notably proved that maxim. Here are just a few factoids that escaped the 2017 headlines.

January 10 – Crested Butte Mountain ski resort in Colorado was forced to close because of too much snow.

January 13 – A report from the U.S. Dept. of Energy showed that solar energy employed more people than all of the gas, oil, and coal companies combined in 2016.

February 3 – March Tian Boedihardjo, an 18-year-old math prodigy, completed his Ph. D. and was hired as an associate professor at UCLA.

outdoor wedding, Blue Ridge Parkway

A lakeside wedding.

February 4 – A survey of 13,000 newlyweds who married in 2016 revealed the average cost of their wedding was $35,329.

March 9 – A report covering the years 1992 – 2012 showed that 84 percent of wildfires in the U.S. were human-caused.

March 21 – The rusty-patched bumblebee became the first bee species to be placed on the endangered species list.

April 6 – Scientists in Boston said in a study that the area’s cod population was at a historic low, 80 percent less than a decade ago.

April 9 – An eight-year-old East Palestine, Ohio boy drove his four-year-old sister to McDonald’s in their father’s work van because they both craved a cheeseburger.

April 22 – Police near the Australian mining town of Broken Hill stopped a sports utility vehicle driven by a 12-year-old boy who had been driving alone for 800 miles.

April 26 – Gift Ngoepe became the first player from Africa to play in a Major League Baseball game, and he singled in his first at-bat.

baby alligators,

“Did somebody say beer?”

May 28 – After posting photos on the social media Snapchat, two men in Ridgeland, South Carolina were arrested for forcing a baby alligator to drink a can of beer.

May 30 – Though ranked 12th in U.S. population, Virginia drivers claim 10 percent of the nation’s vanity license plates with more than 1.2 million personalized tags.

June 14 – A Eureka, California man was arrested after he used a flare gun to shoot another man with a shotgun shell stuffed with Rice Krispies.

June 25 – Ohio Highway Patrol Sgt. C.O. Smith halted a 10-mile chase of a driverless runaway Amish buggy by running alongside the horse and grabbing and pulling the dangling reins.

July 7 – Ray and Wilma Yoder of Goshen, Indiana, cut the ribbon of the new Cracker Barrel Restaurant in Lavonia, Georgia, giving them only one more location to visit of the chain’s 645 restaurants.

July 12 – A contractor working on an ATM machine in Corpus Christi, Texas became stuck in the device and was rescued after he passed a handwritten note through the receipt slot to a customer.

August 29 – Akron, Ohio’s Emily Mueller, who was due with her fourth child and is known as the Bee Whisperer, posed for photos with 20,000 honey bees swarming on her abdomen.

No Stupid People sign

No caption needed.

August 30 – A 24-year old Kenosha County, Wisconsin man was critically injured when he fell 25 feet onto an interstate highway after he had fled his crashed car in an attempt to elude police.

September 12 – The U.S. Census Bureau reported that the medium U.S. income reached a record $59,039 in 2016.

September 12 – A copperhead snake bit a woman customer in the foot as she sat down to eat dinner in a Longhorn Steakhouse in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

September 13 – A homeless man in Nashville, Tennessee was shot twice after he asked the driver of a Porsche SUV to move the vehicle so he could sleep on the sidewalk.

September 19 – Topless ladies from a Yuba County, California strip club raised $2,560 at a carwash for two sheriff’s deputies who were injured in a shooting at a marijuana farm.

October 23 – A Portsmouth, New Hampshire Salvation Army thrift store received a bronze urn donation that contained cremated remains.

October 25 – The City of Honolulu, Hawaii instituted a new law that banned texting while walking.

November 3 – A seven-month-old border collie in training herded nine sheep into its farmer’s home in Devon, England.

November 7 – As they left, robbers of a Houston, Texas donut shop handed out stolen donuts to terrified customers.

November 11 – To raise money for wounded veterans, Rob Jones, a 32-year-old Marine Corp vet who lost both legs in a landmine explosion in Afghanistan, completed his 31st marathon in 31 days in 31 different cities.

December 6 – A service dog belonging to an audience member attending the Broadway play, “Cats,” in New York City chased one of the actors dressed as a cat off stage during the opening musical number.

December 10 – A California cannabis grower teamed with a Los Angles-based florist to offer a Christmas wreath made with an ounce of sun-grown, artisanal marijuana.

December 17 – While watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” five-year-old TyLon Pittman of Byram, Mississippi, called 911 to alert police to be on the lookout for “that little Grinch.”

Despite the 2017 shenanigans and light-hearted news notes, let’s hope 2018 is a better year for everyone. Happy New Year!

Despite the Grinch, Santa made it to town.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Joyously enjoying another snowy owl irruption

snowy owl, Harrisonburg VA

Snowy Owl amid the chaos.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The bird was pure magnificence. It’s chosen perch, however, not so much.

Here was a snowy owl, far from its usual winter range, roosting on a light pole in a large industrial parking lot. I wondered if others saw the paradox of the beautiful bird and its chaotic, manufactured surroundings.

A post of a photo of the bird on a local business’ social media page alerted me to the rarity. The caption simply said, “He’s back!” Upon investigation, I learned that the photo was actually taken four years ago when the last snowy owl irruption occurred.

Ornithologists label such outbreaks of snowy owls as irruptions. Usually, this owl species winters in Canadian provinces and summers further north in Arctic tundra areas. For reasons still being studied, every so often snowy owls venture far beyond that territory to the universal pleasure of birders. During irruption years, the birds scatter far and wide, going as far south as Florida.

To be forthright, I had been a little envious of birders back home in Holmes County, Ohio. A snowy owl had been spotted nearly in the same location as one in the last irruption four years ago, and not far from our former Ohio home.

snowy owl, Holmes Co. OH

The Holmes Co. Snowy Owl. Photo courtesy of Dave Findley.

The Holmes County owl was very cooperative, affording excellent looks and lots of stunning photos of the bird. For many, it was a life bird, meaning it was the first time those individuals had seen a snowy owl. I was happy to hear that the Amish farmer of the land where the owl had settled was glad to host birders as long as they were respectful of his property and kept a proper distance so as not to spook the bird.

The snowy owl in Virginia wasn’t nearly as cooperative. The day my wife and I saw it, it was three football fields away from a farmer’s lane where we observed the bird. The industrial area where it alighted abutted the farm.

We squinted into the early morning sun to see the bird. Even through binoculars, it was hard to distinguish the bird’s more delicate details. A fellow birder, as fellow birders often do, offered us a look through her spotting scope.

I used the full length of my telephoto lens to capture imperfect images of this gorgeous bird sitting contentedly among power lines and steel light poles. I got a better shot through the scope by merely holding my smartphone to the eyepiece. Even then the glaring sun’s rays, defused by growing overcast clouds, gave the photo a black and white look.

digiscoped snowy owl

Through the spotting scope.

That was only appropriate since this snowy owl showed both colors. Layers of black barring covered the rounded owl’s back, indicating that this was either a female or young snowy. The feathers of mature males are almost entirely white.

With the sighting of this Virginia snowy owl, any lingering envy I had of the Ohio snowy melted away in the morning sun. I was contented.

Within days, other snowy owls began appearing south of the Canadian border. Several more found their way into northern Ohio and other states, too, including another one in Virginia.

It would have been too much to expect a snowy owl to appear in the Shenandoah Valley. And yet, here it was, an early Christmas gift perched on a light pole.

That’s just the way life is. When we least expect it, beauty appears in the most unlikely places, even a factory parking lot.

snowy owl, Rockingham Co. VA

The Snowy Owl later found more conducive habitat at another nearby farm away from all the industrialization.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Not the Loch Ness Monster

Silver Lake Dayton VA

Not the Loch Ness Monster.

Given all of the fake news that has made international headlines lately, I won’t deny the thought didn’t cross my mind. But this photo is not the infamous Loch Ness Monster. It does resemble the famous picture that purported the Nessie sighting.

No. This is the silhouette of a Pied-billed Grebe that I shot (with my camera) last evening at Silver Lake near Dayton, Virginia. I went there to photograph the reflection of the sunset but came away with this gem instead.

“Not the Loch Ness Monster” is my Photo of the Week.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Relearning the rules of the road

long and winding road, Shenandoah Valley

A long and winding road, typical for the Shenandoah Valley.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve had my driver’s license since I was 16 years old. I’ve loved driving ever since. City, suburban or rural, it doesn’t matter. I just enjoy being behind the wheel of a vehicle.

I consider myself a decent driver, too. Please don’t ask my wife to confirm that opinion. However, she’s more than happy to have me do the majority of the driving on any trip, whether of short or long duration. I once was even certified to teach driver education.

Other than vacations and business trips, all of my driving experience occurred in Ohio. Imagine my surprise then as we settled into living life in the Shenandoah Valley. I have learned Virginia’s driving styles radically differ from those of Ohio, not that drivers in the Buckeye state model exemplary highway etiquette.

Here’s what I’ve discovered so far about driving in the Commonwealth:

1. Using your turn signals is optional. Since you already know where you want to go, why bother to turn them on?
2. When traffic lights turn yellow, accelerate through them. If you stop, you run the risk of being rear-ended.
3. Only use your headlights when absolutely necessary, even well after the sun has set. Apparently, Virginians use this technique to conserve the vehicle’s battery.
4. Pull out in front of approaching emergency vehicles even though you can easily hear the blaring sirens and clearly note the flashing emergency lights. Having previously driven both ambulances and fire trucks, I ignore this rule.
5. Speed limit signs are posted to let you know that you are traveling too slowly. In other words, go faster than it says.
6. Double-yellow lines that separate opposite flow lanes and delineate no passing zones are really used to guide your vehicle down the center of roadways.
7. Pedestrian crosswalks on public highways are the equivalent of middle school dodgeball games. If you hit someone, they most definitely are out.
8. Bicyclists are an illusion. They are not really there, so just keep driving.
9. Texting and talking on your cell phone while driving is expected. Those who don’t do so make those who do look bad.
10. If your license plates have expired, just paint the words “Farm Use” on them, and you’re good to go. However, it helps to have some old corn shocks sticking out of your trunk.
11. Stop is southern slang for “slow.” This is especially true when making a right-hand turn at a stop sign or red traffic signal.
12. Cutting the corner at intersections is mandatory. It obviously helps you save significant time getting where you want to go.

Though I’ve tried my best to adjust my driving habits to the local travel traits, I still get the evil eye in certain situations. Like when I go to turn left on a green light, I pull into the center of the intersection until traffic traveling in the opposite direction clears. Then I make my turn. Apparently, only ex-Ohioans do that. The proper procedure in Virginia is to stay at the painted line ahead of the light and go left when the signal turns red. Note that several other vehicles may follow you.

I have also learned that on country roads it is entirely kosher to just stop in the roadway and talk with someone you know. The others will eventually go around you. Just make sure that when you do pass that you follow another local custom. Please wave and smile, too.

horse and buggies, Dayton VA

Down the center line.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Embracing October’s sensory qualities

changing leaves, Holmes Co. OH

Autumn’s glory.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’ve always loved October. The month never seems to fail in its sensory-sensitive offerings that surprise, frustrate, and elate you. October in Ohio has that much variety. Halfway through the tenth month, I’ve learned that’s even true in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where we now live.

Fall’s first frost ushered in the new month on October’s very first morning. Light as it was, the chill still stung the tomato and pepper plants in our daughter’s garden. Overall, the days have been balmy and very dry. I haven’t mowed the lawn in a month. No worries. I’ve found other ways to spend my time.

I chauffeured our granddaughter to 5 p.m. soccer practice on her eighth birthday. She took along a sweet treat to share with her teammates, which the college-student coaches wisely kept until after practice. A refreshing breeze blew through a crystal clear, early October sky while the youngsters jostled back and forth on emerald grass bordered by stands of patient trees waiting for the signal to paint their leaves.

sugar maple, Shenandoah Valley

Sugar Maple.

After an afternoon of volunteering at a local thrift store, my wife shared a touching story with me. A customer came in from Florida. She and her husband had evacuated to a relative’s home in Harrisonburg to escape the wrath of Hurricane Irma. The lady’s husband was gravely ill with cancer. She was gathering clothes for their return trip home. The man wanted to die in his own bed. The store manager and Neva donated the clothing to the grieving woman. As she was leaving, the lady turned at the door and said, “You don’t know how much this means to me.”

Loyalist that I am, I wear my Cleveland Indians gear wherever I go. As I walked across the campus of Eastern Mennonite University to the school’s library, a student stopped me. “I noticed your Indians shirt,” he explained. Turned out, he had graduated from the same small, rural Ohio high school as our son and daughter. I had a brief chat with Aaron Weaver, now a college senior. The connection brought me as much joy as an Indians postseason win.

harvest moon

Harvest Moon.

Soon after that encounter, October’s Harvest Moon bathed the earth in creamy nocturnal colors, enabling the skunks to waddle their way around with ease. You could follow their trails with your nose.

Of course, this October brought more human-induced and unnecessary horror that just cannot be understood. Innocents in Las Vegas fell dead or injured faster than autumn’s leaves. I shudder at such horrid, incomprehensible, and inexplicable violence.

Even with that sad news, if you asked me to pick one month out of the year as my absolute favorite, it would be October. My October memory bank is overflowing.

One particular Ohio scene is indelibly etched in my mind as if it were yesterday. In reality, my regular morning walk on my favorite township road was actually four years ago.

Typical for an Ohio October morning, the air was crisp, embroidered with lacy fog that snaked across the landscape indiscriminately, propelled by the rising sun that warmed the country air. My stroll was nearly half completed when a young boy quietly passed me on his bicycle near an Amish parochial school. The sun’s defused rays colored everything a luminous, eerie monochrome on the hazy landscape canvas.

That’s an October memory I’ll always recall for its vividness, its sensory invigoration, and its blessed setting. It’s helped me to continually be alert for unfolding comparable moments. They are everywhere for everyone, especially in October.

Amish boy on bike, foggy morning

Into the fog.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Losing a friend who was a friend to all

Raymond Buckland

A few of Buck’s books.

By Bruce Stambaugh

The news of my friend’s death fell heavy upon me as if all of Autumn’s trees had simultaneously shed their rainbow of colors in one smothering, leafy avalanche. Raymond Buckland meant that much to me.

I wasn’t alone. As word spread of Buck’s death, other friends who knew him began sharing words of praise on social media. All lauded his kindness, generosity, and love for life. He was truly a caring and gentle soul who touched many people around the globe.

Buck’s spiritual heart was full of love and light. His human heart had finally failed him.

Raymond Buckland

Raymond Buckland.

I met Buck through our weekly writing group, the Killbuck Valley Writers Guild. We met every Sunday afternoon for three hours at Jitters Coffee House in Millersburg, Ohio. I think Buck picked that venue as much for the yummy pastries as the central location. At the writers’ group, we called him Buck. To others, he was Raymond or Ray.

Born in London, England, his alluring British accent enhanced his magic words that he loved to read aloud. Buck was facetious about details, extracting them from his broad life experiences and incorporating them into his informative, vivid, and descriptive writing. He often used the settings of his formative years as the scenes for his many books. When asked, Buck didn’t really know how many books he had written in his lifetime. It must have been at least one for each of his 83 years of dynamic living.

Buck never bragged about his accomplishments or his awards. He would share the good news of course, but always in ways that encouraged and motivated his beloved writing troupe. Through living, reading, and research, Buck became an expert in a wide variety of subjects ranging from mystery writing to witchcraft. His preferred mode of transport, however, was a Corvette, not a broom.

Buck never foisted his beliefs onto others. Nor did he judge others for theirs even though they may have differed. Writing came first and foremost for Buck. It’s how he made his living. It’s how he connected with the world. It’s why he formed and nurtured the writing group.

Raymond Buckland

My last shot of Buck.

The genre of writing didn’t matter to Buck, just so long as you wrote. We had song lyrics, poems, allegories, newspaper columns, essays, narratives, short stories, science fiction, non-fiction, and novels both written and read in our little collection of scribes.

We had lots of laughs in our writing group thanks to Buck’s good sense of humor. He put that jovial approach into supportive action for the good of the community. Buck helped organize and sponsor comedy night benefits as fundraisers for the Holmes County District Public Library.

Buck showed his generosity in various forms. If he knew you were serious about writing, Buck would gladly spend his valuable time advising and encouraging writers, novice and experienced alike. He also freely gave away computers, books, and various writing resources.

He was a realist and idealist, a visionary and a professor all rolled into one loveable and likable human being. Buck’s generosity was a byproduct of his gracious living.

Buck believed in using descriptive, sensory words efficiently. As he would remind us, one word is better than two. “Show, don’t tell” was another essential writing reminder. Showing is precisely how Buck lived his storied, charitable life.

Buck loved music, both playing instruments and singing. He was as engaging as he was creative. In part, that’s what attracted so many readers and writers to him. It’s also why he will be missed so very much by so very many.


Buck enjoyed participating in the benefit comedy nights.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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A trip that eclipsed the eclipse

Port of Seattle, Seattle downtown

Enjoying Seattle.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We committed to going to our friends’ wedding anniversary celebration long before we knew about the total solar eclipse. We merely had to tack on a day to our itinerary to view this exciting, much-anticipated event.

Neva and I saw this trip to the Pacific Northwest as an opportunity to finally see the State of Washington, one of seven in the U.S. I had yet to visit. Now the list is down to six.

If you know your geography, you’ll realize that Washington shares much of its southern border with Oregon. We had long wanted to visit other friends who lived in those two states.

Traveling is in our blood. Neva and I both like to visit new places. When renewing friendships is also involved, the trips are all the more pleasurable.

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First on the agenda was an extended visit with one of my college roommates and his wife in Spokane, Washington. They had visited us a few times in Ohio, their native state as well. We quickly got to see Spokane up close and personal. We also made a day trip to some historical locations in Idaho’s beautiful panhandle. The scenery was stunning, the history engaging, and the local folks as friendly as could be.

As pretty as the tree-studded mountainsides and luscious valleys were, the renewed fellowship with Joe and Janis was so much sweeter. Conversations and stories tumbled out as if our separation had been 10 hours not 10 years.

From Spokane, we steered the rental car west through pleasant evergreen forests into the expansive dry plains of The Great Basin, passed sweeping irrigated fields that stretched for acres and acres. The state had kindly marked each crop with signs on the fence that separates the interstate from the fields. It also eliminated the necessity to stop along the roadway.

We crossed the mighty Columbia River much easier than Lewis and Clark ever did. Soon after we drove through parched grasslands still smoldering from recent wildfires.

We found the home of former Holmes County friends nestled among tall evergreens. Bob and Becky were equally gracious hosts, showing us their beautiful new hometown of Edmonds on the Puget Sound. We packed in more sightseeing in a day than I could have imagined. Seattle is also a beautiful, bustling city with excellent public transportation. A dollar can take you a long way there.

We attended the weekend anniversary celebration of the bride and groom of 60 years, Larry and Mary Jane, at the remote church camp they had run for a few years after moving to Oregon. It’s not often you get to spend a weekend on a coastal mountain reminiscing with friends and connecting with new friends surrounded by a lush rainforest and a gurgling mountain stream.

With the Great American Eclipse the next day, our hosts at the camp kindly made arrangements for us to stay with friends in Albany in the agriculturally rich Willamette Valley. The weather there tends to be clearer than days along the Pacific Coast where the camp was located.

It couldn’t have turned out better. Albany was in the path of totality, where the moon completely blocked out the sun. In our locale, the sun went dark for two minutes. We had incredible views of the eclipse, including the Diamond Ring, Bailey’s beads, and the corona.

The total solar eclipse, with all its dazzling attributes, was a celestial complement to our Pacific Northwest trip. The joyful renewing of personal relationships, however, eclipsed the eclipse.

corona, total solar eclipse

Totality with Regulus in the lower left.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Emotions run high as school starts

boating, Lake Erie

Summertime fun has come to an end.

By Bruce Stambaugh

It seems like I just can’t get away from it. Retired from my career in education 18 years, butterflies still tickle my tummy this time of year.

From pre-school through college, the school year either has or is about to start for thousands upon thousands of students. Emotions can run high for everyone.

I remember those days all too well.

Edgefield School

Edgefield School as I remember it.

As a student, I always got excited about the start of another school year. I couldn’t wait until the class lists were posted a week or so before the fall term began. We never knew exactly when those blue-inked mimeographed lists would show up on the glass doors of the Edgefield School. Often times we depended on another student finding out and spreading the word.

Once posted, I hustled down Harrison Ave., turned left on 38th Street, and climbed those foreboding cement steps to the double glass doors of the three-story brick school building. Besides wanting to know who my teacher was, it was more important to me to know who my classmates were. Friendships in youth are critical.

My grandchildren didn’t have to run to the school to discover who their new teacher was. The principal sent a letter to each pupil. However, because of privacy reasons, they’ll have to wait until the first day of school to learn whom they will spend the next nine months with learning their lessons.

Talk about nerves. I’ve already heard some chatter about hoping so and so is in their class. Of course, once everyone gets their letters, I suppose most will know before school begins.

Though they might not admit it, I think the older the students get, the more nervous they are. With required proficiency tests in every state, there’s a lot of pressure on students to do well for themselves, their class, their school, and their district.

That’s likely the last thing on a freshman’s mind. No matter how big or small the school, peer pressure cuts across every aspect of today’s teenage life. I wouldn’t want to ever go back to those uncertain years.

The beginning of another academic year runs the gambit of emotion for parents, too. They’re glad to have the kids back on some predictable routine and some much needed free time for themselves. Some parents are just downright relieved that school is back in session. And yet, they’ve enjoyed the time with their offspring over the summer months.

School supplies have to be purchased, along with school clothes, and arranging for childcare if both parents happen to be working the same shifts. Finding dependable, safe situations can be stressful if not expensive.

cardinal flowers, spicebush butterflies

Butterflies of a different sort.

Even us grandparents feel the tension of the start of school. Wanting to help as much as possible and in any way can, we seniors like to stay abreast of what all the grandkids are doing, and how we can assist the parents. Cries for help often come at the last minute.

Good teachers, of course, have long been readying for this first day. I’ve seen their cars parked at the local schools all summer long, just the way I did when I was a principal. That doesn’t mean they won’t get those butterflies in their stomachs. Even the veteran’s do that. The same goes for bus drivers, custodians, cooks, secretaries, and all other staff members.

So whether it’s sending your first child to school for a full day of learning or whether you’re a seventh grader who can’t locate your assigned locker, take heart. You are not alone. Everyone else is either excited or anxious, too.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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Compassion and empathy in the U.S. Constitution?

By Bruce Stambaugh

Empathy and compassion are two admirable human qualities that seem to be in short supply in today’s politically polarized world. Each one of us can change that tone if we try.

Declaration of Independence, U.S. ConstitutionAs the Independence Day holiday approaches each year, I reread the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. This time I mainly focused on the First Amendment. Here’s what it says.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

When written, the freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, and petition were paramount to the effectiveness of not only the Constitution but to the life of the young Republic itself. That is why they are listed first.

In that straightforward paragraph is the recipe for freedom for the country’s population without hindrance from the government, as the founders and the people they represented had personally endured. They remembered too well the frustration of pleasing a king and conforming to a state-endorsed religion. Here, all were, are, and should be free to practice their religion or no religion, speak openly, gather freely, and petition their leaders unhindered by any authorities.

I see more than several sacred freedoms listed in these hallowed and cherished documents. I detect both empathy and compassion intentionally interwoven into the tapestry of documents that formed our great country.

Empathy is a teachable tool for compassion. If I am to be tolerant of others despite obvious differences, I have to listen to what their priorities, requests, and suggestions are. In that manner, I learn to be empathetic towards others no matter how I personally feel about the issue.

Mind you, I’m no expert on American history, the Constitution, or even empathy and compassion for that matter. I’m sharing from the viewpoint of my own personal experiences, both in receiving and giving of those two admirable traits. No more. No less.

national symbol, bald eagle

Our national emblem.

The Founding Fathers knew that this budding nation needed structure so that all who entered its borders would be treated equally. That concept wasn’t entirely accurate when the Constitution was written. Permitting slavery was an obvious exception. That’s why we have amendments, to change with the times, and like it or not, the times always bring change. Witness the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery after the Civil War.

The Founding Fathers devised our government with three separate but equal branches. The President and his appointees comprise the Executive Branch. Congress is the Legislative or law-making division. The Supreme Court is the third element of the federal government, the Judicial Branch.

hiking trail, Virginia

What path will we take?

None of the three branches has any more power over the other two branches of government. Historically, their influences tip, like a farmer milking on a three-legged stool. But when the job is finished, the stool returns to balance. That is by design.

As our country and its citizenry again approach this Fourth of July holiday in celebration of being a free democratic republic, we have important questions to answer. Can we, will we honor the wishes of our Founding Fathers by actively and intentionally living out the ideal they created? Can we be compassionate and empathetic to all persons we meet?

How we express our freedoms individually will shape the path and tenor collectively that this great nation takes. The question at hand today is this: Will compassion and empathy continue to be the thread that connects these precious First Amendment rights?

© Bruce Stambaugh 2017

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