Open Letter To Brayden Harrington, Teenager Who Spoke At Democratic Convention

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Here is the letter that my better-half, James Wilson, wrote and mailed to Brayden Harrington, the inspiring teenager who spoke to the Democratic Convention about stuttering.  This young man moved many in this nation first to tears, than to clapping, and then to a renewed sense of what the majority will do this fall as we head to the election polls or cast a ballot by mail for Joe Biden.

Dear Brayden Harrington,

          Let me begin my letter this evening by saying how proud I am of your performance this evening at the Democratic National Convention. Your speech was fantastic and moving. Bravo! And I am quite jealous of your friendship with our future President, Joe Biden.

          I was a teacher for twenty-five years. I taught French and Spanish literature and language to young people your age, and later to adults at a technical college here in Wisconsin (though I grew up in central Maine, not so far from you). Of all of the students I had over the years (in the thousands) the ones that made the biggest impression on me and for whom I felt I had to work the hardest were the ones who were different than all the others. Not different because of some defect or something that made them an object of pity, but rather something that made them determined, hard-working and, most of all kind. Those things that make you struggle also, as the Vice President said, will lead you to be empathetic and decent. In short, you are building those qualities which will make you a great friend. I am delighted to see you embrace what makes you unique and what sets you apart from others your age.

In my career, I have worked with a student who was completely blind. I researched for her how to read letters in Spanish with accent marks on them in braille. We worked together until she had learned the new braille symbols and could read with her fingertips books like Harry Potter translated into Spanish, and completely on her own. Now, I have not read any of Harry Potter, so when she asked me what a muggle was, or what a horcrux was, in Spanish, I was a bit at a loss! I have worked with a student who was completely deaf since birth, but by the time she came to the end of my class, she was telling her classmates, “Come on now. You aren’t even trying to pronounce that correctly!” When asked how she could possibly know how French sounded, she replied, “Watch his lips—yours aren’t forming anything at all the same shape as his. There is no way you are doing it right!” And she was spot on! I have had students who were eleven years old, and those who were in their eighties. I have worked with students so profoundly dyslexic that they thought they would never be able to learn English, let alone French or Spanish, but we researched together strategies on how to overcome the difficulty in a second language. All of these students made me a stronger teacher, and a better person by being in their presence because they called upon me to meet them where they were and to go beyond.

I feel very much that way with you this evening. You sound like you are the age where they are going to be asking you to learn a foreign language soon. Don’t be scared by that, but be aware that the letters and combinations of sound which cause you to stutter in English may not be the same sounds and clusters of letters which will trip you up in a foreign language. Just ask the disability resource specialist at your school, or if there isn’t one, a beloved librarian who loves the challenge of finding obscure texts, to help you find information written by specialists who have dealt with your stutter before and follow their advice. Some of that writing is very technical, and not overly exciting, so if you need help wading through it, you may feel free to send me a copy of the text in an email and I will read it for you and give you a call to talk about it. I am happy even to help you in the research if that is the part that seems the most difficult—I have a lot of librarian friends to help me with that! What makes you unique is a challenge I am willing to help you overcome because in the end, we need young men like you to show the rest of the world what it means to be kind, hardworking and determined. We need more friends of the future President of the United States to succeed because when I am Joe Biden’s age, I want to know that the world is in the hands of someone like you, someone who is empathetic and decent. I want to know that my future leaders were the kind of students I would have wanted to go that extra mile to help.

Very sincerely yours,

 

Recalling Robbys Restaurants

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My recollections regarding Robbys restaurants have bounced about this week.  With the pandemic, there is more time for the mind to wander and land on parts of the past that are not often thought about it.

Such as a place where eating in the back seat of the family car was something I considered a great deal of fun.  As a young kid, I was not aware that Robbys in Stevens Point was a chain of burger restaurants. What stood out to me was that we were able to eat a burger and fries in the car!  ( I know, how much more of a small-town feel can there be?) But that was something I loved.  I recall one evening eating in the backseat when it was dark and rain was pelting the car windows. A fond memory, indeed.

The photos on this page are ones I was able to scrounge off the internet and are not the location in the “Points” as my Grandma might say.  It would seem that the Stevens Point restaurant was located not so far from their high school.

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I recall the rooflines and under them were yellowish lights that today I would describe as giving the place a glow and warmth.  As a boy, it was just fun to have our car pull into a parking stall.

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There are places far and wide that our thoughts take us these days as so much of our normal routine is limited due to the virus.  We can lament that constriction of our lives or ponder about things long forgotten.

And so it goes.

Russian History At Its Best With Robert Massie–Catherine The Great Lives Again

Consider the audacity, enormity, and power of the following sentences from Robert Massie’s masterpiece, Catherine The Great.

The final sequence in the ceremony was the acknowledgment the coronation represented a pact between God and herself. 

She kneeled and, with her own hand, took the communion bread from the plate and administered the sacrament to herself. 

Now consider the way you or I might feel when inviting a guest to our home.  Perhaps we try to push them off until the blooms are perfect in the gardens or a house project is complete.  We, therefore, can see the logic, and even humor, when Voltaire wishes to visit Russia.  Empress Catherine is nervous about exposing her country and its rustic nature to his analytical eye and writes a friend the following.

“For God’s sake, try to persuade the octogenarian to stay at home.  What should he do here? He would either die here or on the road from cold, weariness, and bad roads.

She will write about Diderot and the way she first observed him.

“…a high brow receding on a half-bald head; large rustic ears and a big bent nose, firm mouth…brown eyes, heavy and sad, as if recalling unrecallable errors, or realizing the indestructibility of superstition, or noting the high birth rate of simpletons.”

Pages and pages and more pages of coming almost face-to-face with the main character is what makes this book so meaningful.

I am most interested in how Catherine reads about the Enlightenment and tries to channel thoughts about how her society should be constructed. How  the populace and her government might interact to the betterment of all. There was so much potential because Catherine had the willingness to grow intellectually and had the desire at times to remedy the fundamental ills that inflicted her people. I am struck, time and again, with how Catherine almost becomes a teacher rather than just the head of state. How she aspires to greatness both in terms of  being empress, and also with the power of intellectual thought.

Many years ago a long-time friend and Madison artist David Burkard recommended Robert Massie’s book.  Russian history is always bold, brassy, and leaves one wanting more.  Massie has the knack for dropping us in the world and time of his subjects.  So thorough is his knowledge of Russia that this series of books from Peter The Great (which received the Pulitzer Prize and this fall or winter will be my next Russia deep-dive) to Nicholas and Alexandria are recommended to better understand the Russian people and their fascinating history.

I strongly concur with the critical praise that was heaped on the book about Catherine and kick myself for not turning the pages before now.  The pandemic has certainly allowed for more reading time, and finding my way back over the years of book recommendations has provided fond memories of friends and events.

If anyone reading this post wants to step far aside of the frenzy over the current national election, or the bombast of our nation, and instead be immersed in drama and intrigue that is nuanced and presented from the hands of an erudite historian then please consider the following.

This book is brilliant and totally captivating.

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Morning Newspapers Showcase Joe Biden Nomination

Once again Caffeinated Politics has some of the front pages of newspapers nationwide to underscore the punch of the main story we are living.

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