Systemic Rhetoric and Schools

As a young child I was taught the concept of there are central arguments with the reaction to George Floyd’s death over memorial day weekend, the spark that merits a broader response to the tragedy.

One may realize it is difficult to conceptualize how to make change in the midst of such systemic reaction to racism in our society. One of the issues at hand is these ideals can no longer remain philosophical discussions. There is no time. Our children, students, young minds meant to be most impressionable at this age need to have optimism and hope in their lives. They need to feel heard rather than be subjugated to the same rhetoric following the lives of their elders down to them. Society is speaking loud and clear and we need to listen.

Recent events have shined the focal point of change and awareness upon school districts across the twin cities and country as well as our own in (pick a district). We need to be that change that begins to shed a light upon a privilege that interferes with progress in a far more ignorant manner than people would like to believe. Now ignorance is a powerful word, and its usage is not meant to offend as it is to make a point. If there is not action on an issue that has evidence before our eyes, we cannot get ahead of the crisis, and it eventually becomes yet another lost moment.

A sampling of k12 mission statements across the country speaks to the following: ensure that all students learn; each student continuously achieves one’s highest aspirations; embraces the diversity of the entire community; each student’s unique needs and abilities are merited; providing an equitable learning environment that embraces diversity and individual student needs. In each sampling there is an expressed need to recognize equity and inclusion as we try to move our children forward with pedagogical resource and focus.

The truth is nobody needs remain alone with their own personal response to a need for change. How we address our student needs going forward is paramount. We can believe we have an opportunity to make change only if we are consciously trying. Words alone have brought us to the edge, now it is time we step into the challenge.

These are difficult times, fighting through a pandemic, asking our students to focus on distance learning during a time when educational gaps are obvious, and finally, addressing the need for equity in a diverse community. Which one takes precedent in our mind falls upon a need to know what we value the most in our society. Each suggested problem could argue proportionate value.

The issue of recognizing there is a climate of implicit racism in our world comes to the forefront for me. We need to understand the individuality of our educational policy. Our students need to be able to be called upon as individual rather than being masked as a certain population that affords discrimination. Student voices need to be heard before we can begin to feel we are on the right road toward fair and inclusive treatment of POC and society as a whole.


© Thom Amundsen 6/2020

The Story of Mak (or Man’s Best Friend)

The year 2020 started off with a bang for me. I was suddenly about to be found swirling in a myriad of life choices, decisions, adjustments and COVID 19. To begin the year, my marriage of 30 years had fallen apart, and I was forced to look at myself in the mirror and take responsibility for my own share of grief and distance in a collaboration that had been failing for years. When I reflect upon our time together there is no question the rock my wife provided me in the midst of years of turmoil with a variety of addictions that helped unravel my world. I am fortunate on many different levels for her support not only in straightening out my own life, in her patience, and as well, our opportunity to share in the wealth of raising two wonderful children.

So the reader might ask, what does any of this have to do with a dog? One common denominator in our marriage was that we always had a dog. We had a cat for a lot of years as well, but that was a different story. We raised three Golden Retrievers from puppies over three decades, the last moving on with her true companion, my spouse. When we split there was no question she would travel on her journey with the companionship of the dog, albeit hers was an ownership I would never argue, given the nature of our circumstance. I began the first month of a separation without a dog and living in a home we had shared together raising our children and dogs for twenty years. There is no question the nights were long with memory and confusion. The one piece missing for me all the time was an animal, a dog to come and lay near me whether I was overwhelmed with tears, or simply wanting a companion to hang out with. The silence was deafening.

Then one day my daughter suggested I take her dog for a few days. She said she couldn’t stand to see me so alone without a dog after seeing us grow as  a dog family all these years. To be clear, I would have plenty of opportunity to see our present dog when time permitted, but being in the early throes of a separation it had been hard to imagine those times. So I gave my daughter an emphatic ‘yes’ and she brought her dog – a golden retriever – over that evening. My world changed in an instant and three days later as I was readying her return to my daughter, I had already begun scanning pages for rescue dogs. I knew I would get a dog eventually, I just didn’t know when I would be ready.

The answer to that question arrived one day in the story of Mak, a Bernese Mountain dog basically given to me out of the kindness of a colleague’s heart. It was immediate love.IMG_0313 Well, the first night Mak chose to lay twenty yards away from me all night, basically just keeping an eye on me, a complete stranger. That first night was a sleepless night for me, not knowing whether this dog would ever acclimate himself with me. Within 48 hours we were pretty inseparable, and that to me is the essence of seeing a man with his dog. This week I am on our last leg of a journey up to the north shore, morning looking at the vast waters of Lake Superior and then later on mini-hikes throughout the day. Mak is such a mellow dog, I was able to let go of the leash and just have him toddle along with me on the path, in fact many times he would take control of the walk by laying down in the middle of the path and giving me a look like, ‘there is no way you are making me keep up your pace’ – break time. Let me tell you it is a rather daunting ask to force a 120 pound animal to move forward until they are good and ready. The hikes were filled with smiles and laughs that serve as a preview for many walks in the future.

He is no question a hiker with a prowess, but right now around 16 months of big baby, so we will take our time readying ourselves for an all day hike – someday maybe, quite a feat, more for me than the dog, but he will push me forward. The last couple of days have been spent just watching the rain outside our window as the churned waves that would crash along the shoreline and then drift out to sea with shadows of mid-day sunlight moving them like surface shadows in a breeze. The magic of the lake was certainly not lost upon either of us throughout our hours together. Tomorrow we will return home.

IMG_0315I have found myself in recent weeks understanding more and more how special this animal is in my life. If I am having a bad morning, I only turn to see Mak’s doe-like eyes waiting for my glance and when we do connect his tail takes off. When in a lighter moment Mak wants to play he will plant his two front paws onto the carpet or wood floor or the grass outside and stretch his body all the way to his back paws and then land squarely on his butt and give me a look like, ‘c’mon man, let’s go!’ There really is something rather special in the affinity a man can feel with his dog. I’m writing this and if I look across the room, I will find Mak in a comfortable posture sleeping the night away. The moment I move a muscle his eyes will be upon me checking my next move. I can only be grateful to have this big guy by my side as we venture into this extraordinary time with COVID 19 starting our year with a pandemic, and now the remarkable early stages of social justice being finally recognized as a purposeful focus in our society. I can only imagine how torn I might be having to face the perils of a pandemic alone, how lost I might feel not having anyone to talk to about my feelings towards social unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s incredulous death. To Mak, it is simply another day, but one that will be spent giving me the confidence to know we both appreciate one another unconditionally.

So having met the end of Pink Floyd’s Animals, the twilight out my window as Lake Superior slaps the rocks nearby with a gentle breeze, it is time to retire for the night. I see his tail wagging as he caught my glance, knowing something is up. Ah, the sweet peace of a man and his dog as we venture forth in these our early days of summer.

IMG_0310


© Thom Amundsen 6/2020

summer on Lake Superior with Mak

What Happened in America?

In the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department – more specifically an individual in the police force, rhetoric is being tossed around with ignorance and thoughtful dialogue. The unfortunate nature of protest has turned ugly after the sun goes down across the country slowly burying the original narrative – the death of a black man under the blatant force of a white police officer.

When does the abuse stop, or when does the courage to speak of the need for reform begin? How do we keep a momentum necessary to pursue the ideals of social justice long after the dust settles? I’m already worried. The instituted curfews and the greater presence of police, national guard, state patrol is quite evident and their job has occurred in a swift fashion. But when the streets clear of an angry, frustrated, oppressed population in our city and across the nation, what happens next? Who wins, who loses? The adage that I’ve grown up with my entire life is that POC will continue to be the forgotten population, the discriminated presence, the victims of a systemic flaw in our society.

Every day people stand with each other on Lake street participating in the clean up. Society is standing with one another rather than excluding themselves or segregating their lives because of lethal differences with one another. This appears to be an optimistic gesture of people coming together as one, but it needs to last beyond the final dustpan carrying the soot of loss to the city dump.

Conversations have to begin and they have to be maintained to become a stronger precedent than simply patting ourselves on the back and saying we participated, and now let’s get on the lake with our boat and go fishing – go ahead but keep the conversation happening.

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around how to write about this since the day George Floyd lost his life, and our horizon and the narrative has changed so dramatically over the course of a week. At first I would have suggested that the violence and looting were indicative of years of oppression, and to a degree I still support that thinking. But the uglier violence has not only buried part of the ideal of protesting the scrutiny against Blacks, it has also given people an opportunity to not concern themselves about the oppression of the Black community.

The one piece that I have heard throughout social media is the need for White people to start listening rather than continually verbalizing their angst. Allow yourselves to realize you may very well be experiencing anxiety and confusion, but rather than speak what you believe a powerful diatribe of the problem, instead, take a moment and listen. We live in a society that scrutinizes people’s ability to listen rather than speak. We live in a society that is bent on believing they need to be heard and known to be saying the right thing. The problem is we don’t.

We have no idea how the Black experience is in contrast to our own White privilege. That’s where it begins. “In a contrary movement, the modern world transforms the person who listens into an inferior human being” (Robert Cardinal Sarah, The Power of Silence). We need to allow people to listen. We need to suggest people listen. I’m writing what I believe in this essay and I could criticize myself with the hypocrisy of what I am saying in light of what I suggest, in that I just need to shut up and listen.

Our society has an opportunity in respect to the tragedy of George Floyd losing his life in a violent matter. We have seen it time and time again, there is no disputing that the horrific nature of George Floyd’s death is another in a long string of incomprehensible treatment of people of color. The action itself continues the systemic nature of a broken society, and this week’s protests were an inevitable reality that needed to happen and needs to be the catalyst towards strong conversations ahead.

We need to allow ourselves to be further educated than believing the myths we live.


© Thom Amundsen 6/2020

 

The Strength of a Statesman

obama

Last night I couldn’t wait to hear what former President Obama would say to our nation of 2020 graduates. He has always, since that first stump speech, tried to provide a positive perspective on our lives. Whether people would like to simply reduce his words to only rhetoric, the fact remains they are his own, whether rehearsed or spontaneous. I think it is important to recognize how a public figure in our lives can become a Statesman, and just how much strength that gives them in respect to who they are today compared to a past life so often referenced.

I noticed on social media last night and this morning all the raves and support President Obama received after his speeches yesterday to the “graduates of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and to the high school graduates of 2020” (Wanda Fleming Notebook). I heard people say things like, “God I miss him” or “so down to earth” as he once again put words of possibility into the young hearts of America.

The students listened, and we do all continue to listen to his words. Certainly there will always be disagreement, and I respect that; however, if done in malice then all we do is break down what anyone tries to say no matter their capacity before our lives. I think with Obama we get the true nature of a man who knows how to work a crowd, but when given the opportunity does it with character and integrity. There isn’t a wow factor in his words as much as a hope and promise. He would like people to find a way, again, to smile and realize there is much to believe in ahead of us all, young and old.

To me, those are the components of a Statesman in our country, and what is important to realize is that this person or any persons who can reach such capacity are not going away. Their words still remain, it is up to us to listen or pass off. Last night I listened.

In my life I have watched many people in positions of power become Statesmen in their next lives as we speak to everyone’s newest chapter. When President Carter left office, he was quietly ridiculed by people that were the seeming nuts and bolts of governmental machinations. He went silent into the distance, and then became the gentle giant he is today, as one of our more powerful Statesmen in the country. One of his foundations, ‘Habitat for Humanity’ has a sublime history supporting our impoverished and homeless not only across the United States and America but the World. This all happened because of the passion of a man that believed in his country, in the fellowship of man. President Carter believed in doing what is right for society, not himself.

I believe I have seen this in nearly every President that has left office after having an either illustrious or embarrassing experience as the leader of our country. I have always believed myself to have moderate views on politics, most would look at me and shout liberal, very few would imagine conservative. Maybe it has to do with the clothes I wear, the length of my hair, my own insecurity with a philosophy, but the fact is I believe in people far sooner than I do any political affiliate. I feel for the human condition long before I attach myself to any religious orthodoxy. I think our ability to remain open to everything that happens around us is a key element to surviving not only this life-changing pandemic but everything we experience in our lives.

I watched as President Nixon became a criminal in the eyes of America, and then years later began to receive acknowledgement with his prowess for foreign diplomacy despite his alleged personal perils running the country. I will not believe he passed on in disgrace, more a Statesman. President Kennedy really didn’t get a chance. I reference him only because he was the first President I experienced as a toddler. I became increasingly aware with age.

I have watched both Bushes become recognized for not simply their philanthropy but their kindness toward what we find to be our world. I never thought I would say that about either, certainly not ‘W’ but now today, I do, because I listen to who they became and have become since leaving office. Perhaps they don’t stand before a podium nearly as often as some, but when they do, their voices are heard and they are respected by everyone. Will we be able to say that about every person that leaves the most visible and powerful position of office in America? For me, that reality is what caused Obama’s words to so resonate yesterday evening.

Even Ronald Reagan left an endearing legacy while his mind struggled to pass gently into the night. The thing about Reagan is he was the same man that entered the office of the Presidency that later left. He did not attempt to make himself something that he was not.

A person does not have to agree with politics to recognize the beauty in human nature. For two decades I lived in a neighborhood of mostly conservative republicans whom today I consider close friends well beyond our political views. We can even talk about politics together without upsetting each other, undermining one another, abusing our right and privilege to exist in and around society together. I thank my family for that attitude because from the moment I could speak, I learned how to defend myself and listen to others with true passion.

I think the values that have allowed us to carve out some niche of who we are today, do evolve from listening to those speakers. They are not just ‘holding the codes’ are capable of ‘pressing the button’ on our survival or demise. True speakers in my lifetime are the one who long after their visible duties have been retired, continue to embrace a world with words of logic, of consciousness of kindness.

Last night, I believe that was President Obama’s motive, and I am grateful. During this time of confusion, hardship, fear as doors begin their opening, there are a lot of posts reflecting what life will be like when we do re-enter society. Please do not imagine for a moment that people’s struggles today are temporary. It is a frightening prospect to know what this pandemic has done to so many lives already struggling long before the outbreak occurred.

Despite fear and the unknown, the strongest belief I wish to hear day in and day out is – Be Kind.

I believe that was Barack Obama’s motive yesterday, and he wakes with the same today.


© Thom Amundsen 5/2020

Writer’s Block

Well, its reality has arrived. I struggle to find something to write about. I know there are a bevy of topics just waiting to be explored, yet I’d rather sit in a stupor looking at a blank page.

When I teach students, I will often direct them to pull out a piece of paper or today, open their laptop and just start writing anything at all, until something hits and you find yourself traveling down a road of story-telling. I give them the option to use the phrase, “I can’t think of anything” over and over until they get bored with it start to write anything that comes to mind. In twenty five years of using this method in the classroom, I have one student give me a page – before laptops – and front and back, like a penance in the old tradition of detention, he wrote the phrase from beginning to end. I looked at it when he put it on the pile because in his early musings, I suspected that might be the case, and then I chuckled. I looked at him, and we both had a laugh because I liked this guy, as I do of course the majority of my students otherwise I would be in the wrong profession. I said to him, do you know this probably took more effort than you would have simply free-wrote on any topic coming to mind. He looked at me with a smile, and agreed and said it was one of the most tedious exercises he had experienced in a writing project.

I can’t think of anything.

Don’t Feel Sorry For A Teacher

I run an immediate risk with teaching colleagues with such a title caught in the eye of the storm that is COVID-19. Our lives and the students we teach are forever changed, anyone, anywhere in the world will be impacted more directly than indirectly by this virus. We will all have to adjust to the new normal until a medically healing vaccine will be discovered. I speak of teachers because in my world most of us still have our jobs, and before this pandemic, there have been history books written on the scrutiny of teachers and the lack of respect for all of their work in the classroom with ‘your’ children.

I would be remiss if I didn’t first speak of all of our civil servants, our police, our fire workers, our EMTs, our service workers, our medical teams who put themselves directly in line with the contagion. In addition many people have the opportunity to still work from their homes. We have become a necessarily adaptive society using our online social network at an alarming rate. So let’s get back to teachers shall we? Without discounting the incredible numbers of unemployed I want to speak of our opportunity as educators in this unique time.

A couple of years ago, in the district I teach we went one to one with technology. No one in their right mind imagined our current peril to be the reason. The planning committees across the world with research to back up their findings would suggest that students can go further with their learning using online resources. Our school district created a system of keeping academics in focus on what was once known as a snow day. The idea didn’t take the entire day of freedom from students at home, but it did offer a limited array of academic tools to keep students on track. This system was imagined to compensate four or five days of lost education in a winter bound region of the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the rules. Students need their education, they need to move to the next level. Students across the world need to be able to achieve a current level of education in order to hone theirs skills to live formative futures that lay ahead. Students in post-secondary also face the same challenge. For the sake of this writing, the focus in on elementary through high school, and primarily on senior classes whose graduation walk are now hanging by a thread. This does not even speak to the extracurriculars – athletics, fine arts, business, etc.

When this virus first began to impact education, we were told we would have a week and a half before our spring break to begin implementing tools to provide students distance-learning for the rest of the school year. It would appear we may not enter the classroom through graduation. I remember hearing a colleague one day suggest that maybe teachers will gain more respect now that parents are forced to stay home from their jobs in order to care for their children. I cannot imagine what parents who need to work and cannot are going through in respect to their children who are dependent upon their love, compassion and care in home. During our ‘shelter in place’ or ‘stay at home’ mandate in nearly every state in the country, every country in the world, our children are left living uncertain and vulnerable times.

I personally don’t believe this gives teachers a better opportunity to gain respect. In fact, it increases our responsibility to move students forward. It demands that as a teacher we find a way to inspire and support students to continue moving to the next level of their education. The COVID-19 virus is a mandate on education, and we as teachers need to embrace this opportunity in the midst of crisis.

Now more than ever teachers cannot manifest the identity that allows the general public to believe we may take ownership in lesser stressed occupations than workers in many capacities across the country. Teachers need to step up and create online classrooms that will capture the imagination of students across the world. In the classroom, we as teachers are asked to provide students with a safe environment for learning and coping in a dynamic and fluid world. More than ever, as we reach into student homes we need the parents to feel confident their children are not being ignored and not being forced to move in rampant fashion into negative aspects of such remarkable free time in their lives.

As a teacher, we need to reach our students and not let them believe at an ever increasing and alarming level that we do not take stake in moving them forward and giving them the tools to continue to hone their academic skill set. As a teacher, we need to continue to be a student mentor. That is what we signed up for. That cannot change.

Be safe everyone – keep your distance – wear your masks – love each other.


© Thom Amundsen 4/2020

Thoughts in a Covid-19 World

I haven’t felt like writing for quite some time, but today I received the inspiration I was pleading, and so it goes that I want to talk about this Covid-19 crisis that we will seemingly endure for quite some time. It will change our world, our lives. The number of positives today reach 169 in Minnesota alone, not to speak of the enormous numbers across the world.

Our lives are impacted as we all get used to this self-quarantine in our homes. The temps outside are just shy of my desire to take my bicycle out, though newly tuned, I am thinking at least a short ride in the late afternoon when the temperature peaks. That would seem a freely healthy move inside this isolation.

I am a coffeeshop guy and I went through early withdrawal with the words of our Governor shutting down any inside seating. It makes frightening sense to me now as I watch the numbers and their daily rise. It is important to recognize these are real people and not simply numbers. People’s lives across the world are changed, forever. People have lost loved ones like a germ warfare attack throughout Europe and now having reached the states, it is clearly an epidemic not seen since perhaps the Polio outbreak.

I’m a teacher so I don’t have to go into work. We are planning to go online with our courses in a couple of weeks, not only finishing a quarter but perhaps completing the school year online. I haven’t wrapped my head around that. At the same time I appreciate the time off to get my head straight with my own personal life, I realize our work, as experimental as it is, so vastly impacts the lives of our students. I hope to give them a solid foundation for their education in both core and elective classes.

I run a  theatre program that will shut down for the spring if these effected lives do not begin a downturn in the weeks ahead. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. As I sit here with a mild cough, I get nervous, and wonder about the thousands of lives in Minnesota already infected. Again, I’m only focusing locally, because really that is all my brain can muster right now. Looking out my window, I know that on everyone’s mind outside that walks by, is the virus. We are living a summer blockbuster. The only difference is it is real.

I think as a teacher, someone said recently, maybe now our profession will be appreciated when families are stuck at home rather than sending their children to school. Well then I would say all of those people in all professions need to be respected for the impact staying home has on their livelihood, and then don’t forget the medical personnel in all capacities who are dedicating their lives to curbing the spread of a virus that they cannot even clearly see a vaccine that will brings this to a halt.

My car has 12 miles of gas left in it before empty, and I am not in any huge hurry to go fill the tank. There really is no need, unless I decide to just take a drive and never get out. That might be in the near future if the temperatures don’t rise and my bicycle remains hanging in the garage.

I wish everyone peace during this very difficult time. I hope you may all hold your family and friends near your heart and soul. I hope those alone don’t feel completely invisible to our society and world, and realize there are many in the same circumstance. I hope people may find their peace of mind within themselves and use faith and prayer, your chosen method of processing this incredible violation upon the human condition..

On a lighter note, I hope Netflix does not shut down.

Peace everyone,


@ Thom Amundsen 3/2020

A Difficult Month

I have experienced loss this month, not simply grief of losing a loved one to the natural course of life. More presence and banishment. Not hostile as much as confusing. Many aspects of life have been exposed, many others kept in their dark holes of quiet solace from revealing my greatest fears. And yet there is the heartbreak of our lives that we always keep close to ourselves in order to find some sanity in our day to day.

I have known love on so many levels, and now I am being asked to love alone, without any recourse beyond knowing in my own seeming understanding of God or some spiritual entity that love does exist and continues beyond the mechanical or physicality of the human condition.

My belief is in God. I have kept that tucked away for many years because parts of our society do not accept the reality of some of our own ways to find personal strength in ourselves, in our lives. I remember a time over a decade ago when I was struggling and when finally coming to terms with whom I was in the moment, I sat in a chapel, looked at an altar and began to feel the tears stream down my cheeks. I didn’t hold back, I just let them fall, and the memories began to flood my mind. I thought immediately of my cousin Billy, who I miss so much, and my parents, and my childhood, and like a film reel my life ran its course of recall and redemption. I realized that morning that I could be okay with whatever decision I make in life because it is my own. I believed that day, that God was looking over me, and offering forgiveness. It felt unique in contrast to the many times I would on my knees or in a fetal position pray that God might take me out of this miserable life. That day God held my hand.

Recently I have returned to the church and it has offered me a unique peace. Though I still walk through my days with questionable motives. I have very good friends, a support system that is just short of phenomenal, but are we ever completely satisfied? There is a void in my life that I created on my own, that I find troubling because I fall into patterns of neediness that won’t allow that to be fixed. I have made a choice in my life that I could not possibly regret because moments do teach happiness and truth.

Today, my words gradually become more revealing. I hope they might speak the truth in what I feel, not simply words to fill the page and find reader’s eyes, but words that would somehow tell a story that when other’s hear, they have their own quiet ‘yeah’ moments. My mother always called them ‘aha’ moments, so I save her mantra for myself because I do love her and miss her dearly. With my dad the two taught us as a family how to live with one another no matter the struggle. We used to spend hours in debates with all of our family around the old oak table – freedom of thought without judgment. Something I miss dearly, but in writing we can find and use that venue to our own advantage to help define our thoughts.

So it has been a difficult month. I have returned to work in a capacity and the students are clearly my life blood. I see them throughout the day and their smiling faces is all a person needs in the moment. It is the hours afterwards that I will continue to struggle to find my own space, my own identity, my own truths.


© Thom Amundsen 2/2020

A Doll’s House – Part 2

Doll's House 2

For years I have been compelled to perform Ibsen’s A Doll’s House on a high school stage. The message, a premise of marriage along with inevitable and familiar failings speaks incredibly well to a society a century later still struggling with the concept of a union between two people. In my own interpretation of Ibsen and motive, I felt that Nora was no longer intrigued by Torvald Helmer’s rule of thumb, and as  a crusader herself for a ‘woman’ well before a time of authenticity in judgment, she made a choice that shook the family, if not certainly that auspicious society of marriage at the time.

In the original play, Nora Helmers walks out on Torvald and her children and there the story ends, the audience is left only to speculate her demise or future. What Ibsen does with this beautiful piece is speak clearly to a concept of marriage and unity, pitfalls and survival, that exist still in today’s modern society.

In Lucas Hnath’s contemporary revision, A Doll’s House – Part 2, the next chapter to a classic story, Nora returns to the home she departed from 15 years later, now a successful woman with a dilemma placed upon her identity. Under the direction of Joanie Schultz, the characters demonstrate an exercise in futility that remains a running theme from the moment Nora’s shocking return upsets the house nanny – Anne Marie. The encounter of the two both stark with worry of the other’s reaction is a comical way to dive into a work of serious consequence. Why has Nora returned after 15 years is Anne Marie’s most pressing concern.

The story unfolds to discover the legal documentation of Nora & Torvald’s divorce was never filed. Torvald refused to file the papers. Nora is now left with a successful writing career yet the possibility of being exposed and character destroyed because of this seeming ‘oversight.’ In the midst of this literal jigsaw puzzle several scenarios are part of an excruciating dialogue where every character including the now adult daughter of Nora begins a diatribe of blaming one another for the failure to come to terms with  marriage dissolution. What happens in the process of Nora & Torvald coming to terms with a difficult decision is exactly what our society today still nurses with a walking on eggshells fear of communication. The inability to be genuine and real with one another no matter the consequence.

The Jungle Theatre does an exceptional job bringing this consequential story to the mind of everyone in the audience. For me the play was exceedingly relevant in its ability to show everyone that despite the struggle, no matter the disparity, there is an outstretched hand of love that cannot possibly ever go away.

The only constant is Nora’s ability to again, depart.


© Thom Amundsen 2/2020

An Observation In Absence

MLK JR.

Martin Luther King Jr.


The other night I attended ‘Just Mercy’ at our local theater complex. It was a late showing, but still I was struck with wonder about the emptiness of the room. I was actually the only person in the theater, it was a rather surreal experience. Now I’ve been to shows with limited audience in the past, shows of little consequence, a comedy that has run its course, the latest version of Die Hard or Transformers after a several week run at the theater house. However, the lack of eyes on this show about Brian Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative upset me on many levels.

In theaters nearby, people poured into the late night showings of Star Wars, and 1917. I wondered to myself, as I gazed around the empty space on a Saturday night, is this really due to the content of the film? ‘Just Mercy’ is receiving rave reviews, and it opened ten days ago on the 10th of January. Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day and I have thought about this movie’s impact on me all weekend long.

Brian Stevenson began the Equal Justice Initiative in the late ’80’s to defend the false imprisonment of the incarcerated on death row. He has dedicated his life to this cause as executive director and founder of EJI. “Mr. Stevenson is a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer who has dedicated his career to helping the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned” (eji.org). His central focus is to give a voice to those whose lives are marginalized by bigotry and social injustice. Do not for a minute believe he is wanting to release a criminal to the streets, that would be the short answer to defend injustice. His voice is meant to defend the innocence inside a legal mindset bent upon maintaining systemic atrocity in our society.

The movie is focused upon his commitment to releasing several prisoners, namely Walter McMillan, a falsely accused black man who was sent to death row a year before his eventual trial and conviction. Stevenson managed to get the case reopened through avenues only he could challenge as a young black attorney walking directly in the fire of a racist prosecution in Alabama. His case eventually won the attention of a 60 Minutes expose that revealed the truths of McMillan’s plight in a closed door, self protective, small-minded community filled with hatred and denial.

‘Just Mercy’ focused on the familiar haves and have nots, a poignant moment being when at the start of a heated hearing, the sheriff and his deputies refuse to allow McMillan’s family and friends to enter the courtroom until the room is filled with white community members leaving little space for additional seating. The scene that follows is compelling. While all the seats are taken the room is filled with a community who stands together in strength and courage despite living their lives in fear and injustice.

The poignant message in this movie speaks to a familiar issue in our society today. The color of your skin will have a demonstrable impact upon the treatment and respect received in a confused and racist society. Today, in social justice there is a new mantra being heard that would suggest we practice being anti-racist. The idea of being non-racist no longer being enough. I believe that was the central argument in ‘Just Mercy’ not only creating another intriguing and frightening appraisal of the horrific treatment of blacks in a white dominated region of our country. More important is the implication of not stepping forward, not feeling a need to speak, not recognizing our responsibility to be human beings rather than misguided classes of distinction.

Today on MLK day, I try to celebrate the truth, and the timing and message in ‘Just Mercy’ cannot be denied. For years I have had to work on this day, and always struggled with not being able to focus upon the spirited and remarkable nature of Martin Luther King Jr’s amazing legacy. In the background I’m listening to an MLK celebration at the Apollo Theater with responsible and outstanding voices, including moments ago, Brian Stevenson, speaking not to a movie made about his life, more specifically about his continued journey with EJI. I miss Maya Angelou today.

I cannot think of a better way to celebrate the message of MLK Jr.

Peace.

 


© Thom Amundsen 1/20/2020