Saturday, May 25, 2013

High Flight - a Memorial Day Tribute to My Father

My father, Walter Percy Joque, was an Air Force navigator/bombardier in WWII. He flew missions over North Africa and Italy, where he was shot down.  He spent the last year of the war in a German Prisoner of War camp.

Dad learned the High Flight poem and memorized it to recite at military and patriotic ceremonies in the small town of Escanaba, Michigan where I grew up.  In the years before he died—at age 95—when Alzheimer’s had robbed his memory of the war, his youth, and the names of my mother and my siblings and me, he still could recite this poem.  It became like a prayer to him, as he dramatized the final words, Put out my hand, and touched the face of God,”  reaching out with his own hand and topping off the poem with,“Amen.”

High Flight
By John Gillespie Magee

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
- Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

The poem is the work of American poet and aviator John Gillespie Magee, who died in a mid-air collision  while serving in Britain during WWII.  He was flying for the Royal Canadian Air Force at the time.  He was only 19.

Various lines of the poem grace the headstones of many of the aviators and astronauts buried at Arlington National Cemetery. 

High Flight will forever be a memorial, in my mind, to my father, a member of “The Greatest Generation,” who didn’t hesitate to volunteer to serve his country in its time of need.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Dalai Lama Teaches About Happiness in Madison, Wisconsin

I had the privilege this week to attend an event at which His Holiness the Dalai Lama spoke.   Change Your Mind Change The World was sponsored by the UW-Madison’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds and the Global Health Institute.  The event was held at the Overture Center in Madison, Wisconsin.  What I attended was the first of two panel discussions being held that day, both of which featured the Dalai Lama.

The focus of the morning discussion was on global health and sustainable well-being. The panelists in the afternoon held conversations on science, happiness, and well-being.

A Buddhist monk, Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th Dalai Lama. In this position he is the spiritual leader of Tibet, but he is recognized world-wide as an intellectual, a Buddhist philosopher and author, and a promoter of peace, non-violence, compassion, and inter-religious understanding.  In fact, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.  He has been in exile, living in Dharamsala, India, since 1959, after the Chinese takeover of Tibet.

His Holiness had a busy two days in Madison.  The day before the Overture event, he’d had a private meeting with Governor Scott Walker.  Later he spoke to the combined State Legislature about democracy, equality, and compassion. In between those two events he spoke for well over two hours to a sold-out audience of 3,500 at the Alliant Energy Center.

The UW Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, which sponsored the event I attended, was founded by Professor Richard J. Davidson, Director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior and the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience.  According to the program notes, Davidson had been doing research on depression, anxiety, and fear.  In 1992 he met the Dalai Lama who challenged him to use the same rigorous, scientific methods was using to study negative qualities of the mind to investigate positive qualities of the mind, such as kindness and compassion.  Davidson took the Dalai Lama up on his challenge, going beyond simply studying healthy qualities of mind to exploring how these positive qualities can be cultivated on an individual and global scale using an interdisciplinary team of scientists.  One of their studies has impacted the school at which I work; it is a “kindness curriculum” which is being implemented in our 4K classrooms. The Center also has projects in the Wisconsin prison system and works with returning veterans, cultivating healthy qualities of mind through mental skills training. 

The work the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds is doing is immensely important, as is that of the Global Health Institute.  And inviting the Dalai Lama to be a participant in a panel discussion was an excellent way to bring attention to their work and their need for public support.  However, the two panels, other than the inclusion of the Dalai Lama, were disappointingly lacking in diversity.  The six panelists—five men and one woman—are all outstanding and well-regarded in their respective fields.  But it would have been interesting to have heard from someone from Africa, for instance, or Latin-America to get a broader perspective.

However, my goal was to hear the Dalai Lama in person; to experience his wisdom, his personality, his sense of humor for myself. It’s a huge job to attempt to change minds and change the world. But even in his seventh decade, this master philosopher and spiritual leader continually proves that he is up to the challenge. I only hope that those in power, such as the governor and the state legislature, are up to the challenge of listening with an open mind.  

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Arsonists, a Play by Caleb Stone

The intimacy of a small theater tends to create the feeling of being one of the characters in a play, even if just a silent, observant one. That was the feeling I had as I watched the Mercury Players production of Caleb Stone’s play, The Arsonists this weekend. 

That feeling was even more pronounced because the focus of Stone’s story—the reaction of two small town couples to the horrendous murders and mutilations discovered to have been committed by one of their neighbors—is based on a true life incident that took place in Plainfield, Wisconsin in the 1950s.

Stone’s characters grapple with a roller coaster of emotions as they learn the grisly details of the murders of women they knew, perpetrated by a community member familiar to them.  The intrusion of the news media into the calm of their small town lives unnerves them even more.  Of course, the news coverage of the 1950s was nothing like the constant and horrific barrage of crime coverage that is endemic to the twenty-four hour news cycle today, but serves as a thematic portent of what is to come.

The Mercury Players Theatre, which stages their productions at the Bartell Theater in Madison, Wisconsin, says on their website that they are “dedicated to creating exceptional productions of original, new and unusual plays.”  They have made it their mission to “challenge participants and audiences to see themselves and their world with a fresh perspective.”  I think they succeeded with The Arsonists.

The Mercury Players production of The Arsonists was directed by Sadie Yi, and featured Coleman, Edric Johnson, Stephanie Robey, and Elizabeth Chen as the auto mechanics and their wives who were caught on the sidelines of an event that still managed to change their lives forever.  Caleb Stone is a Wisconsin-grown playwright, who most often works with the Shake Rag Alley Theatre in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, where The Arsonists premiered.

Stone’s script--coupled with impassioned acting, a set right out of the homes of my childhood, and the intimate setting--is definitely unsettling, but is also filled with nuance and insight into human nature.  Kudos to Caleb Stone and all the folks at the Mercury Theatre for having the courage to tackle a tough and grisly subject and pulling it off so well!

Here's a sample:

The Arsonists TRAILER from Rob Matsushita on Vimeo.