Le Temps

Certain languages, including French and Bulgarian, have one word for both“time” and “weather.” The French is rendered Le Temps.

One of my treasured moments as a Dad combined weather, time, and beauty. I was sitting on a peak in Arkansas with my son on a Sunday morning singing while watching a thunderstorm roll in not from above but from our flank as it wrapped itself around the mountain and we were, for just a moment, spun into a vortex of time and weather that made my heart skip a beat. The weather became time and time became weather and God seemed very near.

My son taught me to look at the sky. My daughter constantly reminds me of the beauty all around. Brandon is a meteorologist. Lauren, a budding artist and designer. I read some excerpts from this book and thought of them.

Maira Kalman and writer Daniel Handler celebrate in Weather, Weather —  the idea of what I saw on that mountain with my son. I only wish I had taken a picture.

There is a picture in Weather, Weather, taken by Carl T. Gosset Jr./ The New York Times: “This Photo Was Made Just before 4 P.M. at Broadway and 43rd Street, Looking East across Times Square.” July 24, 1959 

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In this picture, time stands still for me even though it was 58 years ago. A man stands with a hand in his pocket looking down at the sidewalk oblivious to the torrent of rain as two women dressed vaguely like my mother dodge puddles and shrink against the elements as they run across a New York street.

I was born the day after this picture was taken. And yet it was only yesterday…

Here are some pictures from Weather, Weather by Maira Kalman and the writer Daniel Handler. Enjoy!

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Illustration by Maira Kalman, based on Hatsuo Ikeuchi’s Snowflakes, c. 1950

 

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László Moholy-Nagy: The Diving Board, 1931

 

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Illustration by Maira Kalman, based on Man Diving, Esztergom by André Kertész, 1917

 

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I was in my room wondering what it was like somewhere else.

What’s the weather like?

It’s like summer. It’s like doing nothing.

Delicious.

Illustration by Maira Kalman, based on Alfred Stieglitz’s Apples and Gable, Lake George, 1922

 

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The newspaper said it would be nice today.

What does the newspaper know.

International News Photo: “The Portent of Coming Disaster: A Tornado, Photographed as It Moved across the Sky toward White, S.D., by a Cameraman Who Was the Only Person Who Did Not Take Shelter in a Cyclone Cellar. None of the Buildings Shown in the Picture Was Damaged, as They Were Not in the Direct Path of the Tornado,” 1938 

 

 

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 Illustration by Maira Kalman, based on Barney Ingoglia’s photograph for the New York Times article “Rain Raises Fears of Flooding: Pedestrians in Times Square Wading through a Puddle as Heavy Rains Began Yesterday. The Rain Was Expected to Continue Today, Melting Much of the Snow and Causing Fears of Flooding,” January 25, 1978

 

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Clarence H. White: Drops of Rain, 1903

 

weatherweather_kalmanhandler14Illustration by Maira Kalman, based on Children Playing in Snow by John Vachon, 1940

 

weatherweather_kalmanhandler15Illustration by Maira Kalman, based on Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Alberto Giacometti Going Out for Breakfast, Paris, 1963

I can’t even say what it’s like. It’s perfect, the whole thing. Come with me, take me with you. Let’s go out together and have poached eggs.

Delicious.

 

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Valery Shchekoldin: Uliyanovsk, 1978

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The Eyes of a Teacher

Karen and I enjoy a good debate. Last Friday night, we sparred over the significance of eye contact with another human, or even our dog Abby, who when overwhelmed with too much eye contact will look away. We debated about whether looking someone in the eye is a sign of social dominance, friendliness, affirmation, or something else.

Karen argued that eye contact is generally a good thing and signifies that you are interested in the person you are looking at and in what that person is saying. If you look down or away from a person rather than meeting his or her gaze, you are considered to be distracted or uninterested. I countered that eye contact isn’t always a good thing. For instance, if my daughter is backpacking alone through the Balkan Mountains, she should not make eye contact with a man who would consider prolonged eye contact to be an advance toward intimacy or a bear who would consider a long stare as an invitation to dinner.

So, in some cultures and settings, it is considered more polite to have only brief eye contact, especially between people of different social registers, like a student and a teacher. But what do I know…I lost the debate.

The morning after I lost the debate, Karen was shopping for jalapeño jelly and veggies at the Farmer’s Market while making eye contact with everyone and she bumped into my kindergarten teacher, Mary Brock, her husband Leonard, and their daughter Dana.

Leonard Brock drove a school bus and remembers our children well, including Brandon, who was a very quiet lad. One day Leonard completed the after school bus route and he got up from his seat preparing to lock down the bus and noticed a blond head in the back. Brandon had fallen asleep. Leonard started up the bus and took Brandon home. Brandon apparently believed that he would get home eventually without asserting that right verbally. I can relate to my son sitting on a bus quietly going for a ride back to the bus barn because it’s probably what I would have done when I was five.

Karen and I marveled that Mary remembers one child among many after 52 years have passed. My memories at five-years old, of Mrs. Brock and that two room kindergarten in 1965, just a stones throw southwest of the old Limestone School, are remarkably few, and yet they are crystal clear.

I had a feeling like the world had suddenly become too big, like a big yellow bus I couldn’t get off and I was unable to look anyone in the eye for more than two seconds. The walk to school on Mission Drive was a pit bull obstacle course, although in hindsight, the dog I feared was a poodle with a Napoleon complex. Texas Instruments had not yet revolutionized calculators and I was still a year away from the fat pencil and Big Chief paper. So I performed complex math in my head, addition and subtraction, while diverting my gaze from anything that moved.

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Mary, Dana, and Leonard

One day I held up my hand for the first time. I said, “I know what 16 + 16 equals.” Mrs. Brock was perplexed and either didn’t know the answer or was stunned at my foray into full sentences and complex math so I said, “32,” and I sat back and stared at the cotton looping of my towel avoiding any further eye contact.

Karen mentioned to Mary, a blog post I wrote several years ago about Limestone School. Mary’s eyes twinkled and she said, “I remember your husband!” She told Karen, “He was quiet, shy, wouldn’t look me in the eye. But he was good at math!” 

kindergarten 1965

What is astounding is not that I remember any of that, but that Mary Brock remembers.

Would Mrs. Brock be surprised that the kid who was good at math is now an amateur poet?

Or did she already know, because that is what teachers do, help us become who we are? 

It’s the reason why teachers are so underpaid and yet so beloved.    

Karen came home and told me about their conversation and we marveled that we had just been talking about eye contact the previous evening. Mary Brock knew my five-year old identity well, and so I wrote this verse about how teachers help shape us into the selves that we do not yet own at that age, nor could we articulate our identity at that age. But we do have these moments hidden away that flash before us at times, moments that remind us how we got to be ourselves.                                          

One Plus One is 32

We were ring around the rosie kids

sitting on the floor indian style

doing math in our heads.

And if we were lucky we had a teacher

who drew from the well of fresh springs,

answers to questions never asked.

A teacher knows when our world is too big or too small,

and when we can’t seem to get off the bus,

because nobody else can see us,

lost in plain sight cradling the answer,

to a question we do not understand.

Our eyes meet, a hand raised,

a teacher knows, so we say it out loud.

We speak because she hears,

the peaceful and the angry

the lovely and the broken.

A teacher looks upon a child with unbroken gaze.

Her gaze is forever new in a child’s eyes,

 and she sees what others cannot,

that poetry is math

and math is poetry

and one plus one is 32.

“The highlights of my teaching career were my students, to see their eyes light up when they learned something – such as tying their shoes or whatever we were doing at the time – was such a reward. I wouldn’t change anything if I had my life to do over. I would be a teacher all over again.”  Mary Brock

In 1981, as an instructor at Limestone Elementary School, Mary Brock was named the Bartlesville Public School District’s first-ever Teacher of the Year. In 2011, she became part of the second class inducted into the Bartlesville Public School Foundation’s Educators Hall of Fame.

Thanksgiving Man

Yesterday I experienced two moving moments. One was simple, a man walking along a sidewalk in my hometown. He was arguing passionately with someone, but he was totally alone, his actions said that he was invisible, and I felt sad. The second moment was poignant and filled my soul with warmth. It happened after my wife and I received one of those phone calls a parent dreads. As I watched my son being hugged by cousins and his sister, I couldn’t help but think that once that man on the street had experienced warmth and touch and the comfort of shared words. Thanksgiving is being aware, not just aware of blessings and reacting with gratitude, but awareness of our hurt and loneliness. I don’t know how to write poetic verse, but it just seemed appropriate to write about these two moments in verse even if I don’t know the rules of poetry.

Thanksgiving Man

A brisk clear wind swirls leaves under
my tires as I drive along the avenue
Thanksgiving Eve and I feel full
warm and happy as I see a man striding toward me
on the sidewalk soaking up everything he owns
the sun and wind on his face
I glance at his weathered-beaten animated features
He is angry with his foe
his ragged beard bobs and sways as he screams into the breeze

An argument rages as he walks against the wind
against the sky
against his mind
fighting his words
struggling to convince himself
wrestling his better angels
he rages
slamming them to the sidewalk
he wages
an endless battle in the trenches of his mind
his words fall broken and shattered
to the cold hard sidewalk below

Followed everywhere by his warmth
his quiet companion
slung over his back
limply going for a ride
in the broad daylight of plenty
plenty of sun
plenty of wind
plenty of silence and the great outdoors

The cold hard street caresses
words unanswered, argument unheard
The invisible Thanksgiving Man
waits not for a reply
He speaks again, rebutting himself
His own voice, his own question
Louder, faster, furious, the argument
won and lost by the same man

Thanksgiving Man walks unseen
speaking words unheard
He steps briskly traveling nowhere
howling lonely cold words that nobody hears

In my warm house my cell phone rings
It’s my son, something has happened
I don’t understand, as my wife holds the phone
then hands it to me, and I hear his voice
I hear my son’s voice and he hears mine
Everything is fine, broken, replaceable
bendable, accidents happen
And he is ok, my son is ok
As I say thank you, thank you,
My words are floating in the warmth
Prayer together around a warm table
Warm hands held touching connecting
cosmic wonder divine airwaves

Thanksgiving Man hugs his quiet companion
As my son walks in the door
his sister and cousins run
group hugs
loud voices embrace my son and catch him before
he falls, on the sidewalk, alone

Surrounded by souls, caressed by voices
words warmed by touch
an abundance of love and food and table talk
My son hears and we hear and smile and talk and laugh
tonight my son sleeps in a
hammock slung in our recreation room
because he wants to sleep in a
hammock slung in our recreation room
in the warmth of our home, the Autumn of our Thankfulness

My son is not alone…I think of Thanksgiving Man
I wonder where he hangs his hammock
I wonder who hears his screams
I wonder who hugs his hurt
I wonder if he knows my son is ok tonight
sleeping in the warmth of his swaying hammock
in the glow and warmth of our Autumn of Thanksgiving

Nicholas Kristof writes clearly about thoughts that have been on my heart this Thanksgiving as we consider how we have been blessed and why we are thankful and if being thankful is simply a matter of accumulating on a scorecard how much better off we are than our neighbor. Here is what he wrote in the NY Times in an article about empathy and how we see other people…or how we don’t see them at all.

one of the strongest determinants of ending up poor is being born poor. As Warren Buffett puts it, our life outcomes often depend on the “ovarian lottery.” Sure, some people transcend their circumstances, but it’s callous for those born on second or third base to denounce the poor for failing to hit home runs.

John Rawls, the brilliant 20th-century philosopher, argued for a society that seems fair if we consider it from behind a “veil of ignorance” — meaning we don’t know whether we’ll be born to an investment banker or a teenage mom, in a leafy suburb or a gang-ridden inner city, healthy or disabled, smart or struggling, privileged or disadvantaged. That’s a shrewd analytical tool — and who among us would argue for food stamp cuts if we thought we might be among the hungry children?

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, let’s remember that the difference between being surrounded by a loving family or being homeless on the street is determined not just by our own level of virtue or self-discipline, but also by an inextricable mix of luck, biography, brain chemistry and genetics.

For those who are well-off, it may be easier to castigate the irresponsibility of the poor than to recognize that success in life is a reflection not only of enterprise and willpower, but also of random chance and early upbringing.

Low-income Americans, who actually encounter the needy in daily life, understand this complexity and respond with empathy. Researchers say that’s why the poorest 20 percent of Americans donate more to charity, as a fraction of their incomes, than the richest 20 percent. Meet those who need help, especially children, and you become less judgmental and more compassionate.

The Sole of My Father

Before soft comfortable velcro secured shoes
I remember my Dad’s brown wingtip leather-sole shoes tied with dark cords and buffed brilliantly with Kiwi shoe polish. I thought of my Dad and how i once watched him polish those shoes, as i wrote this today.

Happy Fathers Day Dad

The sole of my father
Shoe leather worn on linoleum floors
Pacing, waiting, praying
It’s a girl, it’s a boy…he’s a Dad
Vitalis Wildroot Brylcreem
flat top pomade, ivy league Groom and Clean,
The smell of a man,
overwhelmed by the smell of honeysuckle
the top of her downy head
and Johnson’s Baby Powder
Gerber strained and spewed,
interpretive art on his canvas
a clean white shirt
colored now in peaches & peas
Love and tenacity
Hope and beauty
color his shirt
born from the mouth of the one
The one he would do anything
to protect, to help, to hold,
Toy boxes, dolls, fire engines red
he sleeps like an angel in a Thomas the Train bed
Balls thrown with oiled glove caught
pitches made and cheers led
His stomach wrenched with a thousand butterflies
his son toes the pitching rubber
and he wants to tell him everything
Before he throws the next pitch
How to grip the seams
How to bait a hook, shoot a buck
Hold a door yes sir yes ma’am
Thank you and please
How to talk to girls, how to live
Before he throws the next pitch
Before he get’s any older
and he falls in love, before she walks radiant
Down the aisle
Strike
A thousand butterflies freed fluttering
Wings cheering leaping dancing
Then melancholy slaps his face
And he realizes he’s no longer magic
no longer superman, the answers come
in paragraphs, maybes, keep the faith
Don’t give up, try this, uncertain, shades of gray
But he still smells like Dad
and the leather from the bottom of
those shoes, those shoes
are everywhere
along the path I’ve walked
Thanks Dad for wearing
out all those shoes
hospital waiting rooms
school principal offices
gym floors and green diamonds
church foyers and campgrounds
the places I’ve walked beside you
Are worn smooth and beautiful
And that path still carries the aroma
Of fatherhood

Reflection in a mirror

waynoka tornado 2012We toured the National Weather Center building at Oklahoma University with our son Brandon before his decision to attend Oklahoma University to study Meteorology. We sat in a 360 degree tower with expansive views of the Oklahoma prairie. I asked the guide, “Is this building tornado-proof?” The answer was, “Yes, and bomb proof also…the glass is bullet-proof, structural steel frame, the exterior skin, Kevlar.” One could theoretically view an oncoming tornado from this observation tower…to gaze into the eye of destruction and stare it down. It’s not recommended. Best practice is to go to the lower floor interior gathering room. But the meteorology students cannot resist. They rush to the observation deck like moths flickering about a street lamp, unable to defy the siren call of the tempest. They are fully aware of their peculiar calling. They long for the adrenaline rush of being part of the storm, to see it, to feel it, to know it.
Brandon has an incredible passion for weather, immersed in the passionate swelling tides of weather-watching by his Mom. When storms are aloft in the Oklahoma sky, his eyes twinkle like a Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. I rushed home from work one recent evening with knowledge of a tornado located about five miles southwest of our house. As I drove down our street I spotted a truck with two passengers. It was Brandon and his Mom, watching the spinning purple-black wall cloud approach. IMG_4147
Perhaps to understand the storm-chasers addiction we can look at Job’s conclusion about wisdom: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.” Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm.
Perhaps storm-chasing speaks to our longing to not only understand the observable,verifiable and scientific… but also the unseen. To bring us to that holy moment of awe when we can only put our hand over our mouth in wonder.

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My son and a friend captured this picture on a storm-chasing trip near Waynoka, OK in the spring of 2012. He was safe on the upstream path of the twister. As a freshman Meteorology student, Brandon was thrilled to see the power and immensity of this particular tornado, as he continues his academic education in the unpredictable atmospheric conditions of Oklahoma…as well as the dimly lit mysteries viewed through a dark glass obscured by our finitude and limitations as storm-chasing humans, flittering moth-like amongst the deeper and darker mysteries not yet refined by computer code and predictive theory.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
I Corinthians 13:12

Tornado Weather by Vincent Wixon
Clouds build all day, hold west of the section.
Plowing east he feels them piling darker, deeper.
Wind through ankle high corn comes cold, dries his back,
and he pushes the throttle a notch,
checks the hills blurring between the wheels.
At the field’s end he raises the shovels, as first drops darken his shirt.
He shifts into high and opens the engine for home.
The rain thickens, turns hard, pings off the tractor,
bounces on the road, stings his bent head and back.
He pulls under the cottonwood,
covers the stack with a can, and sprints for the barn.
Clouds hang low and come on…a black-green curtain wide as sky.
The high leaves of the cottonwoods shudder for the first time all day.
Women stand on their porches and the air turns cool.
They shiver, hug their sleeveless arms,
and listen for the tractor whine of their husbands leaving the fields.
They call the children from the barn, and turn inside to switch on the radio.