Tuesday, January 08, 2019

I'm guided by possibility in the new year

From Saturday's Briefing:

I've never been successful with new year's resolutions. They feel so heavy, and I'm disappointed come late January, early February, when I haven't met my expectations.
Instead, I've found more peace by focusing on interim goals regardless of the calendar. Plus, every year since 2013, I've adopted a guiding word, inspired by Jon Gordon's book One Word That Will Change Your Life.
Joy. Content. Embrace. Each year the word changes, and I try to live with it as a clarifying reminder of what's most important.
As 2018 was waning, though, I was struggling to find my new word. I kept a running list, discarding more than accepting, never feeling devoted or committed to a single option.
In the midst of this silent search, I was reminded of both the miracle and fragility of life. Within just a few days, I celebrated an infant baptism and mourned an unexpected loss.
In a church sanctuary, a group of family members and friends gathered around baby Jude, praying for his future and vowing to lead by example. We sang hymns together and reaffirmed our own faith. We took turns cuddling him. We marveled at his tininess and good-naturedness. We celebrated the promise of a joyful life.

And then another group of family members and friends gathered before a casket holding the body of Kumar, giving thanks for his life. We hugged his wife and two children. We placed rose petals in his casket. We listened to loved ones recall endearing qualities — pride in his adopted United States, devotion to healthy habits, passion for education. We wept over a life cut short.
Jude and Kumar. Two souls from different centuries, from different continents, from different religions. Both pillars of light, both loved from the very beginning. One with a lifetime to explore and a community to build, the other with a journey complete and a community left behind.
How could I frame the new year to reflect my values with both Jude and Kumar in mind? I was still unsure, until New Year's Day, when I opened my new calendar and read the quote for January, from Emily Dickinson: I dwell in Possibility.
Of course.
Jude's options are staggering, almost overwhelming. Kumar's have already been realized.
Mine are somewhere in between.
Each day offers new possibility. Books to read, ideas to explore, prayers to voice. Recipes to try, music to sing, paths to walk. Hugs to give, laughs to share, friendship to receive.
I like to think that I don't need reminders to embrace each day as a gift, to revel in every single sunrise. And yet there are days when I spend more time worrying than being thankful, when I fall into routine without thinking, when I leave possibilities unexplored.
So for this Year of Possibility, I'm thinking of Jude and the hope he represents, and I'm thinking of Kumar and the impact he's left. I'm singing, "Early in the morning, our song shall rise to thee," and I'm envisioning red, white and pink petals scattered with respect.
How fortunate we are to embrace babies — and how fortunate we are to wake up each morning — even as we say goodbye to friends who leave too soon. Welcome, 2019, and all of your potential.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@ gmail.com.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A middle-school teacher's greatest gifts during the holiday season

From Saturday's Briefing:

Toward the end of my third-grade year, I noticed that peers were giving gifts to our teacher, and in return, later that day, she would give them a handwritten thank-you note on scented paper.
I wanted in on that action.
We were living with my grandparents at the time, my mom down on her luck, and I didn't want to ask an adult to take me shopping to spend money we didn't have.

So, I swiped a magnet from Gramma's refrigerator, wrapped it in tissue paper and delivered it to my teacher. At the end of that day, I received the coveted thank-you note.
Of course, petty theft and dishonesty are no way to show someone you care, but I didn't quite grasp that dichotomy at the time. I also didn't understand — and didn't fully realize until I was a teacher myself — that the best gifts of teaching aren't wrapped, can't be placed on a desk or under the Christmas tree. The best gifts, and sometimes the most unexpected, are received daily, the byproduct of interacting with children.
Some days those gifts include high-fives, smiles, light-bulb moments and deep conversation. Every day with children offers the opportunity to learn something new.
Teaching is the kind of career that engenders constant discovery — and not just because of the content we're delivering. (Though I am fortunate to have a job that requires a working knowledge of Greek mythology, time travel theories and the roots of machismo.) Teachers constantly learn from their students.
How else would I know about PewDiePie? He's the ridiculously nicknamed YouTuber from Sweden who was born the same year I graduated high school and has more than 77 million online subscribers.
In fact, how else would I know what a "YouTuber" is? It wasn't until I started teaching that I learned it is one of the most coveted future careers of the adolescent set. (I always advise my wannabe YouTubers to have a backup plan in place.)

These children teach me how our world is changing. At the end of our persuasive writing unit, my seventh-graders wrote letters to be mailed the old-fashioned way. Almost none of them knew how to address an envelope — or were even certain where to place the stamp. They didn't understand the difference between a street address and a P.O. box. They were fuzzy on the necessity of a ZIP code.
They've never known life without email, a concept that fascinates me and forces me to consider which customs and behaviors will eventually disappear altogether.
Their reliance on technology doesn't preclude their humanity, though. These young people have earnest concerns about the world's problems. This school year, my students have identified and defined societal challenges — racism, famine, poverty, lack of education for girls worldwide, gender inequality, endangered animals, cancer, drug use, climate change — and brainstormed solutions.

When they write about themselves and their world — our world — they are sharing the kind of intangible gifts that make working with children so rewarding. Our young people are paying attention, and they're not waiting until they're grown up to tackle tough issues.
Lovely (and delicious!) cookie
from a student this year
The families I serve are thoughtful and generous. I am thankful for every single box of chocolate, gift card and coffee mug that I received from students before winter break. When I count my blessings as a teacher, though, it's those students themselves that I place at the top of my list.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Here's what Christmas really means as I get older

From Saturday's Briefing:

As we age, our perceptions and expectations of Christmas — at least the secular Christmas — change.
I'm decades beyond making a list and judging the holiday's success based on how closely my actual gifts match the list.
I've moved past the idea of creating a picture-perfect Christmas, as defined by magazines and social media as an expertly decked-out house, exquisitely decorated (and homemade, of course) cookies, children in coordinating clothes every day of December, and annual visits to at least one parade, one performance of The Nutcracker, one breakfast with Santa and one nighttime tour of a fabulous neighborhood.

I'm still attempting to make Christmas magic happen for my children, though they themselves are less consumed by the magic and more interested in time with friends and family, hot cocoa as often as possible and Christmas movies in the family room.
I have officially reached the stage where Christmas means community.
Two days after Thanksgiving, my sister's family and my family jumped into the holiday season with a free outdoor concert in McKinney. Ray Benson and his stalwart band, Asleep at the Wheel, crooned Christmas songs and some favorite Western swing tunes. The crowd sang along, with rousing renditions of "Route 66" and "Miles and Miles of Texas."

Most of the fans were strangers, but we felt like a community, joined together by admiration for the same artists, singing the same lyrics, creating similar memories to pile atop our own individual memories of live music and Christmas festivals and cool nights under the stars.
A couple of weeks later, Cooper, Katie and I attended the Christmas Spectacular at the Star, a glitzy outdoor show at the Ford Center in Frisco, repeated every Friday and Saturday night this month. This production wasn't exactly my style, with synthesized music, dancing Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, fireworks and animated lights creating images on the towering Christmas tree.
But the crowd loved it.
The appeal for me was not so much the over-the-top production but instead folks gathering to celebrate and children looking in awe in every direction — a gathered community of neighbors near and far.
The next night we gathered in our church sanctuary, singing carols and listening to meaningful arrangements from choirs and instrumentalists.
The service ended with "Silent Night," the quintessential Christmas hymn that celebrates 200 years this season. The sanctuary lights dimmed, and each of us held a candle, lit by our neighbor, and sang the cherished lyrics with hushed wonder.
We were surrounded by our chosen community.
Those candles in the darkness, lit by one flame and then spread among hundreds, offer hope. It's the kind of comfort I'm especially seeking these days, following the suicide of a young man in our neighborhood, a senior in high school and classmate of my son.
He played in the orchestra.
He was loved and adored by family members, friends and teachers.
He was a member of a community that misses him dearly.
On the last Monday night in November, about 200 people huddled in a park pavilion to remember him. We heard stories about his life, we listened to his favorite classic rock song, and we lit candles in his memory.
We were reminded that each of us are a light in the darkness.
That we need one another.
That we are never alone.
My Christmas wish is that everyone takes stock and gives thanks for the community that they have — and that everyone reaches out to someone who feels like they have no one.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Monday, November 26, 2018

As we await admission decisions, I already miss my college-bound son

From Saturday's Briefing:

It's application season for high school seniors with college plans, which means my son has written his autobiography, 150 to 600 words at a time, for universities across the United States.

Cooper has shared the origins of his career aspirations (nuclear engineering because he's passionate about clean energy sources), ability to overcome adversity (two learning disabilities), how a belief system was challenged (unanswered prayers and questions about God in the wake of his father dying), appreciation for diversity (captured, in part, by his cafeteria table group), what makes him a solid investment (ability to design and complete a large project, as illustrated by his Eagle Scout rank in Boy Scouts), an activity he intends to continue pursuing (running) and his favorite color (not really, but it's blue).

And now, with all the admissions applications and most of the scholarship applications turned in, we wait for other people to make decisions before he can make his.
So far, Cooper has been accepted at one of the four schools he's applied to. The second school feels like a sure bet. The third is a little iffy, and the fourth is a huge reach.
I'm not worried about where he'll go. He's acquired resilience and a strong work ethic. He advocates for himself. Wherever he lands, he has skills to be successful.

If he's rejected by some of the schools, I'm fine with that, too. As a teacher who works with students identified as gifted and talented, I've seen the results of young people placed in the wrong program. If you're able to eke your way in to a curriculum that's not designed for you, you're likely to struggle from the first day, and it's often difficult to catch up. A veto based on data is usually what's best for both parties.
Still, there's a bit of tension in the waiting. At this point, there's nothing more Cooper can do to influence decisions. Four years of academic work plus extracurricular choices, test scores, essays and recommendation letters have been submitted. How those admissions folks piece together a freshman class now — well, it's a bit of a mystery and not in our control.

No matter if he calls Raleigh or Ann Arbor, Houston or Auburn home this time next year, his sister and I are mostly concerned with how we'll fare when he's gone.
At 6-foot-4, he's my go-to child for fetching items from the attic and changing light bulbs. He's the household tech expert. He runs errands without complaint.
He's more than a reliable helper, of course.

If given the choice between riding with me or riding with Cooper, Katie chooses her brother every time. He plays his music loudly, he sings a little bit louder, he dances at stoplights. He makes her laugh nonstop.
He discusses politics and pop culture, sports and Scripture with ease. He is slightly mischievous, usually in a manner that causes no harm.
Every morning when he walks into the kitchen, he asks, "Momma, how did you sleep?" And every afternoon when he comes from school, he asks, "Momma, how was your day?"
It's going to be tough to let this child go.
In her new autobiography, Becoming, Michelle Obama writes of her own mother: "Her goal was to push us out into the world. 'I'm not raising babies,' she'd tell us. 'I'm raising adults.'"
Those words are a poignant reminder for me, as Cooper is poised for the world beyond Frisco. We've been working toward these days for more than 17 years. My son's story has a strong foundation, and there are countless more chapters to come. No matter the setting, adventure awaits.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.
One more campus tour, November 2018

Friday, November 23, 2018

Tree and ornaments, crying and laughing

Thanksgiving Day, just before decorating
One of the best days of the year is when we decorate our Christmas tree.

Unpacking the ornaments is unpacking our lives. Each ornament has a story:

  • Handmade Santa band from Grandma Irene
  • Pasta angel handmade from my mom
  • Clay Santa that Steve made
  • Wooden school bus from Grandma and Papa's trip to Germany
  • Bavarian egg from our friend Sarah
  • Silver angel from our friend Sharon
  • Tiny gingerbread house from the year we moved to Frisco in 2002
  • Wooden frog from Aunt Karen to remember my mom 
For Cooper's first Christmas, Steve and I started a tradition that I've continued -- an ornament that represents something special about each child for that year. When we pack away the tree in early January, I write a note about the new ornaments. Then in November, when we put up the tree again, we unpack the special ornaments and read the notes -- Buzz Lightyear for the year that Cooper was obsessed, Elmo for that Katie was obsessed, a bicycle for the year that Cooper competed in triathlons, a violin for the first year Katie took lessons.

The idea is that when each child leaves the house for their own home, they'll be able to take a ready-made collection of personal ornaments for their own tree. 

Yesterday, after the tree was assembled and we'd fluffed all the branches, we started hanging ornaments. Cooper gets to place his ornaments and Katie hers. I handed Cooper his cowboy (from summer 2010, when we spent a week at a Colorado dude ranch) and asked, "Cooper, will you take all of your ornaments next year to college?" 

At about the word "take" I started to tear up. 

About that time, Katie walked into the entry with hot chocolate for Cooper. She saw him holding the lone cowboy, and without even looking in my direction, started to cry.

Poor Cooper. Stuck between two trying-to-hold-it-together Damm women who are excited about his future but have trouble imagining the house without him.

He hung the ornament on the tree, hugged us both and said he would probably leave the ornaments at home while he's in college.

No one stays sad for long while decorating a tree. We continued, unpacking ornaments, singing to Christmas music (and skipping the songs no one likes, such as "Baby It's Cold Outside"), drinking cocoa.

Katie complimented Cooper for helping with something (his height is a great advantage for decorating), when he told us, "I'll make a great husband one day. I mean, my future wife has no idea."

We laughed for a while. His random immodest claims always make us giggle. There's no specific ornament for all the laughter (or the tears), but we've got all kinds of memories.

Our finished tree

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Holiday magic looks a little different with teenagers in the house

From Saturday's Briefing:

Halloween this year was more wistful than frightful.
Katie was at a friend's house for a surprise birthday party plus trick-or-treating extravaganza. Parents were neither explicitly excluded nor invited, which all moms took as a message to stay away.
Cooper chose to skip a costume altogether and instead opted for youth group at church followed by passing out candy at a friend's house.
That left me at home with the dog, a giant bowl of chocolate and memories of Halloweens past, with Davy Crockett, a toddling crab, Indiana Jones, a tiny tiger, Hermione Granger, an adorable skeleton, Dorothy and the Scarecrow.
Not so long ago, Halloween meant a flurry of activity: eating dinner early so that there was real food to cushion all the junk on its way, wrangling costumes onto little bodies, posing for photos, playing in the front yard until the socially acceptable time to start begging for candy, traipsing from house to house, reminding little ones to say "please" and "thank you," stumbling home to sort all of the candy (and eat some of it) before a quick bath and, at last, bed.
As everyone cautions, those years don't last long. In no time, you're sitting on the front porch, waving to doting parents on the sidewalk, giving away handfuls of candy to their tiny children (and sometimes wondering who they're supposed to be because you haven't watching Nick Jr. or Disney Channel in ages).
This first Halloween with two teenagers in the house is probably preparing me for the holiday season to come. There are no more visits to Santa (though he still stops by the house each Christmas Eve). The magic of the Elf on the Shelf has long dissipated (though our elf is stubborn and refuses to leave despite rampant skepticism). My children have their own social calendars, requiring precise coordination and, at times, negotiation.
We aren't shedding any traditions. We'll watch A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. We'll put the tree up after and decorate the house while reminiscing about Christmases past. We'll shop for gifts for loved ones and folks in need. We'll drink hot chocolate all winter.
We'll still enjoy the magic of the season, but my children are now more involved with making the magic happen, rather than being surprised recipients. It's the kind of shift that parents hope for in theory but struggle with in real life. What happened to the days of matching Christmas sweaters and pipe-cleaner ornaments? How did that time pass so quickly?
Late on Halloween night, when everyone was home again, the three of us caught up. Cooper had carved pumpkins with friends at church and discussed the merits of various NPR programs. Katie had acquired a jack-o'-lantern full of candy with her gaggle of friends. I reported on costume sightings (who doesn't love an inflatable T. rex?) and conversations with neighbors.
Then Cooper attempted to raid Katie's stash of candy. She put up a perfunctory fight before giving in. I swiped a Heath bar or two when no one was watching. It was just like old times.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Halloween 2008

Halloween 2018

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

'Sesame Street' is the humane, affirming TV show we all need right now

From Saturday's Briefing:

One of my first-ever memories is watching family friends deliver a stuffed animal to my newborn sister.
They gave tiny Melane a giant Oscar the Grouch, his mouth permanently open and his googly eyes frozen in one direction.
"That's not fair," I remember thinking. "She doesn't even know who Oscar the Grouch is."

I don't think that my toddler mind grasped that I was being a bit too, well, grouchy.
Melane and I have shared an affection for Sesame Street ever since. Grover, Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Snuffleupagus, Prairie Dawn, the Count, Cookie Monster. We sang, counted and laughed with them all.
Those characters and their lessons stuck with us. They're part of our childhood lore. This summer, we even bought matching Sesame Street shirts.

The iconic program has endured for almost 50 years, delighting children who eventually became parents who, in turn, sat their own children in front of televisions for an hour of gentle entertainment (and debated the merits of newcomer Elmo). That leaves a giant group of us reminiscing as Carroll Spinney, who has been the voice of Oscar and Big Bird since the beginning of Sesame Street in 1969, recently announced his retirement.
Spinney has earned his break. Imagine how many children he has influenced, with that childlike wonder and curiosity that is Big Bird and the remarkable self-awareness of no-nonsense Oscar. He's performed in thousands of episodes, showing children both how to be a cheerful friend and how to create healthy boundaries.
My children were Sesame Street fans of their own volition, at a time when the children's entertainment market was exponentially bigger than during my 1970s childhood. Cable television, DVRs, on-demand programming and mobile apps offer access to an overwhelming number of choices directed at young people — some worth half an hour a day, most of it distressingly insipid.
The recent documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor? reminded the nation of how much we need humane, affirming content for children and their adults. Programming like Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood allows children to be children — to act their age, to explore emotions, to learn appropriate ways to express those feelings.
The best of child-centered programs and literature don't condescend.
They don't force mature content. They celebrate the joy of childhood — and acknowledge its difficulties, while offering age-appropriate explanations and solutions. They embrace kindness.
Adults carry the responsibility of helping children choose content that is good for the mind and soul. Fred Rogers is no longer with us, though episodes live on online at misterrogers.org. Spinney is retiring, but Big Bird and Oscar will continue. And there are tools to help parents sift through the clutter to choose appropriate content. (Common Sense Media is my go-to source, even now with two teens in the house.)
Adults are also responsible for exposing children to life beyond a screen. All of those lessons on counting and sorting, rhyming and sharing don't mean much until kids develop those skills in the real world, with real people. And every one of us needs practice facing the Big Birds of the world when we're feeling more Oscar the Grouchy.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.
From Sesame Street Workshop

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Your political party may be different than mine, but we're still on the same team

From Saturday's Briefing:

I eat lunch with about 10 colleagues each day. We visit about television and movies, families, goals and aspirations, work, the weekend before and the weekend to come. Our conversation runs from silly to serious and back again in the short amount of time we have between classes.
I have no idea how most of these co-workers will vote in the midterm elections.
I sit on the right side of the sanctuary every Sunday morning. There are dozens of folks in front, behind and beside me. We sing hymns together, pray together, consider sermons together. We sometimes chuckle in unison, and we sometimes weep at the same time.

I have no idea which church members cheered for Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation and which shook their heads in resignation.
I volunteer with a group of moms who are trying to get a PTSA running at our high school. We debate how much to budget for hospitality and mini-grants. We estimate how many members we'll have by the end of the year and how much money we can raise to cover expenses.
I have no idea how most of these volunteers feel about Colin Kaepernick or Robert Mueller.
At work, at church, at volunteer meetings, we're all working toward common goals, and we're too busy getting stuff done to get weighed down by superfluous arguments.

My colleagues are there to teach and guide students. Those church members are there to worship, experience community and find truth. My mom friends want to support their children and the people who teach them.
We work toward our goals without regard to which cable news network we watch, which online sources we read, which candidates we support. We may disagree on procedures or small details, but we're willing to compromise, to resolve conflict for the greater good.
My social media world, well, that's a different story. There's an obscene amount of hate being thrown about on Twitter and Facebook. Lines drawn. Names called. Civility tossed.

Yes, these are tumultuous times. We are divided on judicial nominations, health care, climate change, tariffs, FBI investigations, immigration, acceptable forms of protest.
Our country seems to have lost its shared goals. Or we've lost sight of what those goals are, signaling an appropriate time to reflect on meaningful documents and important thinkers.
From our Declaration of Independence in 1776:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
From Martin Luther King Jr., during his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1964:
Man must evolve for all human conflict a method, which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.
Are we still a nation that pursues equality for all, that believes in unalienable rights? Are we capable of setting aside revenge, aggression and retaliation in favor of love?
When my children were much younger and we were in the early stages of grief after my husband's death, Cooper and Katie were bickering more than usual. Tempers were short. I was desperate for a solution.
I spoke with 8-year-old Cooper about the importance of getting along, about not directing our anger or sadness about Daddy's death at one another.
I asked Cooper what his soccer team tries to do.
"Score goals."
And would you ever argue with your teammate on the field when you're trying to score a goal?
"Oh, no!"
Arguing didn't totally shut down in our house, but we rediscovered our shared direction.
No matter which candidates or party we claim, we're all on the same big team — and each of us is valuable and worthy of respect.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

How parenting can be a lot like gardening

From Saturday's Briefing:

To be a parent is to be a gardener — a gardener in an emotional, unpredictable, chaotic plot of land that you're totally devoted to despite constant self-doubt and lack of clear instructions.
You plant seeds all over the place, sometimes in neat rows, sometimes haphazardly in reaction to spindly weeds.
There's no predictable cycle. Sometimes you plant a seed, sprinkle a little water, hope for the best and harvest a bountiful crop. Or you might plant, water, prune, prune, prune, plant some more, water some more, swat away pests, wait a few years, spy a sprout and then eventually, after all kinds of worry, take in a single, precious bloom.
I was folding laundry this week while Cooper was in the next room, on the phone with a friend. She was seeking advice on a major project, one that Cooper had already turned in.
"I told you not to wait on this one," he reminded her. Then he talked her through some details from the assignment's rubric and offered tips and encouragement to finish in the time remaining.
Out of his sight, I danced a silent jig of happiness, in celebration of this rare harvest.
My son boasts a long list of fine qualities, and, like all humans, he has some room for improvement. Time management is what I would call one of his growth opportunities.
Yet this school year has been a little different. Yes, he stays up late each night finishing homework (I would, too, if I were taking four Advanced Placement classes), but he's more deliberate in anticipating his schedule and starting long-term assignments early — the day it's assigned, even.
There have been years of planting, watering and pruning. Years of modeling with to-do lists, reminders and calendars. Years of me reminding, "I told you not to wait on this one." Years of asking, "What can you learn from this experience?"

He was learning the whole time. The yield simply took longer than I expected.
Another afternoon this week, I was in my classroom, grading papers while a group of students met to discuss the brand-new Newspaper Club, the brainchild of two sixth-graders who asked me to be their sponsor.
My Katie, an eighth-grader who arrives early and stays late because I'm her ride to and from school, decided to join the club, partly because she enjoys writing and partly because she's already in the room.

The rest of the group was struggling to agree on features to include in the first issue. They have big dreams and fanciful ideas, and there was some conflict, as is typical in group projects with passionate members.
Katie observed, listened, then spoke.
"I suggest that we look at an actual newspaper and its sections. Perhaps we can take one idea from each section for our own newspaper."

I danced a jig in my mind (so as to not embarrass my eighth-grader).
Katie, like her brother and all humans, bears laudable qualities and harbors some growth opportunities. She speaks her mind, sometimes without thinking how her words will be received. You might call it showing signs of leadership or signs of bossiness, depending on your perspective.
But this time, without prompting or coaching, she assessed the situation and provided a route for compromise. She gave no specific answers but rather provided needed direction. The group responded well and made progress, with fewer arguments and more collaboration.
Another harvest after years of tending.
I'm celebrating my family's recent evidence of growth while also noting that the garden still has wild patches. Some spots need a little more water. Others need to be left alone. And who knows when the next invasive species will arrive.
As always, I've got my eye on some long-anticipated sprouts. Their schedule is unpredictable, but I've learned that the harvest eventually arrives.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.
Katie and Cooper, September 2018

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

How will history judge us a century from now?

From Saturday's Briefing:

European refugees turned away from our shore. Liberation of concentration camps. Unfettered slave trade. The Emancipation Proclamation. An East German death tower. Segments of the Berlin Wall, remnants of a dismantled regime.
My family's recent weekend trip to Washington, D.C., served as a reminder of the weight of history, with intermingled grief and triumph, despair and hope.
We have visited our nation's capital half a dozen times, but this was the first time I felt comfortable taking both children to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It's essential that we study and attempt to understand the causes and devastating effects of the Holocaust, but the exhibits are tough to process, even for adults.
The museum immerses visitors right away, with individual stories of victims. Then you walk through the permanent exhibit, three floors that chronicle the rise of Nazism in Germany, the "Final Solution" and its aftermath.
The primary accounts, artifacts and explanations offer chilling context and lessons in the destruction that humans can create. Few visitors talk while walking through the galleries; words fail when confronted with so much horror.
There are plenty of tears.
Yet amid the evidence of unspeakable hatred and mass murder lay fragments of light and whispers of hope. There are stories of the persecuted who rebelled, of heroes who housed and protected Jews, of insurgency within Hitler's ranks, of Americans who never stopped seeking intervention.
We left with renewed courage to resist conformity and to speak up for those without a voice.
The next day, we were fortunate to get entry to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, which celebrates its second anniversary this month.
We could have spent an entire day at the museum and still not seen every exhibit. We had only a few hours, so we focused on the history galleries, which tell the stories of slave trading, the American Revolution, life on plantations, Civil War and Reconstruction, Jim Crow era, civil rights movement and more.
It's impossible to reconcile the words of the Declaration of Independence, "that all men are created equal," juxtaposed near artifacts of slavery.
The galleries offer more complex stories than any history textbook I've read. The exhibits reveal pain and sorrow, yet, because they are about the human condition, they also describe resilience and honor.
We left with a deeper understanding that the only way to tell the American story is to include the full African-American story.
Before we returned to Dallas, we required a repeat visit to one of our favorites, the Newseum, a testament to the First Amendment. The exhibits offer a distinct viewpoint of the past century, with Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs, video clips from breaking news and front pages from pivotal days in history.
The museum's Berlin Wall Gallery features eight panels from the Berlin Wall, preserved after the concrete wall was dismantled in 1989. The East Berlin side is stark, an empty slate, a reminder of an oppressed population. The West Berlin side is covered with graffiti that represents both frustration and freedom of expression, with phrases including "You are power" and "Act up!"
Another exhibit recalls the events of Sept. 11, 2001, with published accounts from around the country and videos that recall the horrors of that morning, 17 years ago. In the center of the space stands a mangled section of the broadcast antenna that once stood atop the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
I remember those days and weeks after 9/11, when amid shock and fear we witnessed the best of humanity, when we both preached and practiced unity.
We are light-years removed from such civility.
I wonder how history will judge us a century from now. Will historians find hints of hope amid evidence of public name-calling and angry divisions? Are we using our power and voices for good?
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at tyradamm@gmail.com.
The Berlin Wall Gallery
 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.,
 includes pieces of the fallen wall,
with West Berlin's graffiti-covered
side standing in stark
contrast to the bare East Berlin side.