Tuesday, October 29, 2013

On the road to find out - Thanks Cat Stevens

Music was never a large part of my life, just was not a big thing in my home while I was growing up, so I’m learning more about it as I age.  Over the past few years, I have become a huge fan of Yusuf Islam (nee Cat Stevens, nee Steven Demetre Georgiou).  I first saw Yusuf at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the Washington DC mall in the fall of 2010.  He performed the song Peace Train, at the same time Ozzy Osborne was performing Crazy Train.  Love the song Peace Train and truly with the religion Yusuf is part of would take it to heart.

Since that time, I have posted the link to my Facebook page when it appeared we were going to bomb Syria.  I’ve also played it in my classroom before classes, asking my kids to listen to the lyrics.  The previous days of meanness disappeared... at least for a while.  I still listen to the Peace Train multiple times a week.

While grading some papers, another Cat Stevens song came up on Pandora, “On the road to find out,” I’ve heard it many times, but this time, I listened to the lyrics in earnest, and wow!  So incredible!  It is the story of a man setting out on a journey, not physically, but a journey about life and the purpose of his existence.  I find the last stanza of the song fascinating.

Yes, the answer lies within
So why not take a look now?
Kick out the devil's sin
Pick up, pick up a good book now

This is obviously an allusion to the Bible or the Quran, but listening to the song a few more times today, I see it as picking up a “good book” meaning any book that will improve yourself, that will answer questions.  The good book could be the religious texts, but why not “A Pale Blue Dot” by Carl Sagan, why not “Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain?  Many books have made a great impact on my life, so forever in my mind, that is what I will think of when I hear “On the road to find out”

While I am not a huge fan of religion, I can still appreciate the art and music of the religious.  And Yusuf/Cat/Steven, you are awesome!


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Uncomfortable feelings

Feeling uncomfortable as an atheist, it was a feeling I never really expected and am pretty sure that I don’t like!  And it is happening as part of a job that I love dearly.  I have a tremendous passion for mathematics and all of its inherent qualities.  Among those qualities are critical thinking, evidence, abstract thought, and actually getting answer that is right or wrong even though you don’t have to follow the shortest path to get there.
I am an avid teacher, not only of math, but of life.  At the time I started teaching, my journey into atheism was still in its infancy.  I had read god is not great by the amazing Christopher Hitchens, Hitchens was a true firebrand atheist and his style appealed to me.  I also read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins, a much different style than Hitchens, but never holding anything back.  Since that time I am still an atheist and outspoken about it, but I am also a humanist and always have been.  Phil Plait, The Bad Astronomer, made the Don’t be a Dick speech and it is a constant reminder of how we can learn and teach.
Now, as a teacher in the United States and a true believer of the constitution, I looked to make a separation of my personal views and not discuss them with students during the school day or a school function. As much as I would like to have a captive audience and be a firebrand atheist, my values and ethics stop me from doing this.  I have read about Hemant Mehta’s approach to this when he is asked by a student about his views, his reply?  “Haven’t done your homework have you?”  I am not Hemant, we have totally different personalities and I don’t believe I could just deflect the question like that, it is not me.  I certainly would never initiate the conversation.  I would say that this has been more or less successful.
I have now moved on to another high school, for a multitude of reasons, being the Varsity Lacrosse Coach the primary one.  I had no idea how different the new school would be to my original.  IThe demographics of the schools match up fairly well so I wasn’t expecting anything different.  However, I have seen something different, the population of the school is more religious than I had ever anticipated and as a result, I feel uncomfortable at times.  I truly should have known something was up when my team huddled up to pray before several games, hint, it didn't work.  I would just turn around and get my game face on  cry a little bit on the inside.  It is so strange.  I am doing nothing different, but am aware of looks or side conversations, but nothing substantial. 
Let me start by saying, I’m so impressed with the parental involvement at my school, it is incredible to see so much.  I never would have dreamed it possible, but it is awesome.  I am the freshman class sponsor at the school, and as such, I have responsibilities for the class that meet outside of the school environs.  My car is labeled with my personal beliefs, humanism, atheism, etc.  The parents see this, the students say this, they do not say anything, there is nothing malicious, but there are times I see a look or glance.  Could I be paranoid?  Possibly, but I don’t think so.
Will I change?  Should I say something? (I’m thinking not).  In the meantime, I’ll continue to be the best teacher I can be, teaching my students, my children to be cool to each other, if they can’t learn the math, perhaps they can learn to be decent to each other.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

22 Years...and loving it!

My life changed on January 10, 1990.  I was working at Université Laval doing some registration.  One of the girls I met asked me about a good place to go at night, I suggested the Bar L’Etrange on rue St. Jean in Quebec City.  Like all great bars there was great music, plenty of hockey on television, and most importantly, really cheap beer.  Later that night, I had forgotten totally I had told the girl about the bar and just went to watch some hockey and meet up with some friends.  After an hour or so, in walked the girl I had talked to and with her, the most incredible lady I had ever seen, and such a great smile!  Wow!  I still remember that first time I saw her.  Karen, the girl I talked to, introduced me to Erin, the girl with the amazing smile!  We talked, watched some hockey, drank some beer, apparently I was a little drunk because I said something like “I hate Americans”, in retrospect, not my best moment, but at least it showed my honesty.  As the evening came to a close, I asked her to come to a concert with me the following night.  She agreed, and told me her room number and building (dorm) where she was staying so we could make arrangements.  I think that she believed there is no way this drunk will remember that information, but I showed her.

Erin in the tunnels at the Université Laval

What a doofy looking guy!

The next night, I met Erin at my place, it was safe, I was living with four women and one guy at the time.  We went to the concert; the band was from Toronto, called the Shuffle Demons.  I highly suggest that you check them out on the youtubes.  Being with Erin that night was special, the crowd, a few old Quebecois, was appalled when the band asked the audience to stand for the national anthem and they played this.  I laughed, Erin chuckled, it was a wonderful time.

Over the next couple of weeks, our friendship grew, her smile never failing to make me happy.  Erin met my friends, Lorna, Judy, Lisa, and the rest of my housemates.  I found out later from Erin that these wonderful people said some very nice things about me and I thank them very much.  Fast forward to Valentine’s day, we went to another pub, there are a lot of those in Quebec City, the song “California Girls” by the Beach Boys came on, and that is when I first kissed her.  Wow!  She had me.  I don’t remember the exact date, but it was in March that I asked her to marry me.   I believe her answer was “yes, but not yet”. 

Being an awesome lady, we she called her parents on April 1st, yes, April fool’s day to break the news to them.  I believe her mom’s first words were “is he Christian?” Ahh, if only we had known the future.  Erin’s friends and sister had given their approval, perhaps I am an okay guy.  In late April/early May, I was requested to write an essay to Erin’s father on why I want to be his son-in-law.  I was sick with the flu, so with a combination of Neo-Citran (Theraflu for the Yanks), vodka, and Contact-C, I wrote a heartfelt, stupor filled letter.  Whatever I wrote, it must have been good enough.
Summer of 1990 - Engagement photo

Fast-forward to October 12, 1991, autumn is a great time of year.  Erin and I grew more and more in love despite the many miles between us, her in Wooster, Ohio, and me in Toronto, Ontario.  You know, I really don’t recall much about the wedding, what I do remember is that smile never changed.  It was as intoxicating as the first day I met her.  I recently asked Erin about memories of our wedding day, she said she remembers one thing clearly, a cousin of hers throwing birdseed landing down her cleavage as we were leaving the ceremony.  Makes me laugh every time she retells this
Great smile - Toronto (1995)?

Now, 22 years of marriage, one incredible daughter, four exchange students (son and daughters), multiple pets, Erin still makes me happy.  Her smile is still incredible.  She is simply the most incredible person I know.  She is smart, oh so smart, so incredibly smart, it is almost scary.  She is kind; she will go out of her way to help anyone.  She is the “mom”, there for any of the kids, ours or borrowed.  She is the example of how people should act around the world.  She is a hard worker, while she says she is not, there is no one else that I would rather have working in my business.  She is passionate; about everything she does, her dancing, her puzzles, her family, everything.  She is a role model; Erin makes people around her better, not by teaching, but by living life. 
Sharing with Madster in Halifax

Erin is my wife!  I love her more than anything else in this world!  Her smile is still contagious.  She has made me a much better person than I ever would have been without her.  My only wish is to give her more.  Perhaps one day.

Wow! From our last date a couple of weeks ago.  What a smile!

I love you Erin.