Looking Back on 2021

On some levels, it is so easy to say “good riddance” to 2021. It was a year of so many losses and catastrophes. Escalating global health crises, social isolation, and environmental disasters profoundly changed our world and lives in unpredictable ways. Despite the costs involved, those of us in relatively privileged circumstances turned to technology as a way to work and connect with others.

For me, it was a time of painful losses. But 2021 also brought many blessings I never could have imagined – reconnection to friends and colleagues from the past and opportunities to make new connections that enabled me to explore the world. I was forced outside of my comfort zone as a technophobe (although not a luddite) by the need to solve technological puzzles in order to communicate and connect. Of course, I have yet to learn how to use the block editor in WordPress, and I wonder if I will ever make the time for that endeavor…

Some of the 2021 losses were almost more than I could bear. My beloved companion, Pinto, passed in July.

look back 2021 1

Pinto – February 17, 2014 – his second winter with me – “the winter of the polar vortex

I realized after his passing that he is irreplaceable.

My little parakeet, Queenie, has had to fill the empty space Pinto’s death left in my life. Of course, I can’t take Queenie on neighborhood walks, so I don’t go out very often these days. My connections to my daughter and grandchildren have also changed. They’ve become remote, the result of our differing choices for dealing with COVID, both made because of our love and concern for the wellbeing of others.

I have shed a lot of tears, but I have also experienced moments of joy and found many reasons for gratitude. I can’t list them all here, but I want all of my blogging friends to know that you have enriched my life in so many ways. There are a few I would like to thank for unexpected gifts of connection.

Early in 2021, I was asked by a dear blogging friend, Robyn, to be part of a Yarning Circle to honor connections to the land where we were standing. The experience widened my horizons and introduced me to new friends and a better understanding of the wisdom and challenges of Indigenous Peoples in Australia. I am deeply grateful to Robyn, David, Sheila, and Annette for sharing their knowledge and stories. Chi miigwetch (Ojibwe “thank you”) for your kind and welcoming presence.

Not too long after Robyn’s kind invitation, I received an email from a friend and colleague from my university days, Mel Morgenbesser. He reached out to me in his role for Alumni Relations and Development for the School of Social Work, UW – Madison. He asked if I could write a brief article about myself for the online newsletter the School published. I told him I would think about it but let him know I was buried in student papers and wasn’t sure I could promise to do anything soon. I sent him a copy of my resume (Curriculum Vitae in “academic speak”) and a link to a few things on my blog to consider. Mel graciously took the initiative to pull the pieces together and drafted an article on his own:

https://socwork.wisc.edu/2021/03/25/carol-hand-mssw-83-phd-03-teacher-advocate-author/

Mel’s kindness touched me deeply. Ultimately, his article led to another gift that I will return to after acknowledging another unexpected reconnection.

In a recent post, I briefly mentioned my experiences on a commune. In part, those memories were triggered by another email in September from a friend I hadn’t heard from for several years, Judy. She asked if I would be willing to review a book a friend of hers had written. Once again, buried in student papers, I told her that although the book sounded interesting, I couldn’t make any promises to take on other responsibilities because I was too busy teaching. She replied, “That’s okay. I was just looking for an excuse to reconnect.” And that was the beginning of our long phone conversations every other week.

looking back 2021 2

Reflections about our friendship and shared experiences deserve a separate post, but again, here I am, faced with too much work at the beginning of another semester. Let me just say that her presence in my life has continued to be a blessing. I look forward to our scheduled time together with eager anticipation on alternate Mondays. We arrived on a rural Massachusetts commune from very different places as young mothers of mixed ancestry toddlers. Together with another mother from Montreal, we started a daycare center for more than 20 children and then, each went on to other things.

Judy and I got jobs in a city 50 miles away from the commune and still laugh about the adventures we shared hitchhiking to and from work. I remember looking up in awe at the clouds in a clear blue sky as we hiked along the interstate on June days while we waited for our next ride. We both had two jobs at the same places for a while, a fancy restaurant, and a greasy spoon less than a mile away.

Yet, things changed. As the commune became ever more successful, we found ourselves in different positions with little time or opportunity to stay in touch even before we both left and ended up in different states. I severed my ties with people from the commune for many years, reconnected briefly, and then said goodbye to past connections and Facebook forever. But the connection with Judy remains deeper, different, and special. Reconnecting is an unexpected gift.

In November, another thoughtful email opened up a new opportunity. Mel’s article included a link to my blog. Chelsea (Schlecht) Rademacher, Senior Writer and Publications Manager for the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, read Mel’s article and visited my blog. She asked if I would be willing to write a poem for the November issue of Badger Vibes.

I agreed to try, adding that I didn’t see myself as a poet, but sometimes words flowed through me in a way fit into a poetic format. Chelsea was a joy to work with and I want to express my deep gratitude to her for the opportunity. Here is a link to her lovely work:

https://www.uwalumni.com/news/just-breathe-by-carol-hand/

looking back 2021 3

As I looked back at 2021 to say a final goodbye today, I am grateful for gifts of connections to friends old and new, and for the opportunity I had to work in partnership with dear colleagues and exceptional students who have so many gifts to offer others in the years ahead. Sending my heartfelt thanks to all who made the journey kinder and worthwhile.

Reflections – January 5, 2022

This morning I awoke remembering a dream I had many decades ago. To be honest, I don’t remember where I was living at the time, but for some reason, it feels as though it is associated with the years I spent living on a commune. That’s another story, part of which I shared almost eight years ago.

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Queenie January 2022 2

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My memories of the dream were probably triggered by a Netflix movie I selected for my parakeet, Queenie, last night. He sang and chittered merrily as we watched a children’s movie together, “The Guardians.” It’s not the story that resonated with me. It was silly. But the vibrant moving colors that transformed darkness and fear, creating the possibility for hope and joy, made me wonder again about the existence of forces beyond what we can easily measure objectively.

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Aurora_Borealis_and_Australis_Poster

By The original uploader was 14jbella at English Wikipedia. – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 1.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37486421

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In my old dream, I gazed up at a dark sky that was filled with moving, morphing shapes of vibrant colors, similar to the Aurora Borealis pictured above. The guide who has been present in my vivid dreams throughout the years told me, in thoughts more than words, that color and shapes have the ability to affect people’s emotions and energy in powerful ways, frequently outside of their conscious awareness.

As I write, I wonder if the dream came around the time when I was the “light show” coordinator for a mobile disco during my years on the commune. Or perhaps it was after I was served as an assistant for the commune video crew hired to record a Yes performance in Boston, Massachusetts. (But those are other stories, too, that I don’t believe I have written about.) I digress…

The movie and memories brought Edward Bernays to mind again, and the power of images to manipulate emotions to control “the masses.”

The Century of the Self – Part 1: “The Happiness Machine”

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Present day media provide many examples of the technique for fomenting divisiveness and fear. Yet I also think of the images Louie Schwartzberg shares that have the opposite effect.

Gratitude – “Happiness Revealed”

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As I prepare for another semester, I am contemplating once again how to weave these messages together to show the contrasts. Both realities coexist. It’s important to know both. How else would we realize that we all have a choice? We can decide to critically assess alternative perspectives and actions in challenging times like these and work toward inclusive, peaceful, consensual solutions. I hope I can encourage my students and others to consider how to model and share alternatives that help individuals and communities strengthen connections to each other and to the earth we all share.

Reflections – January 3, 2022

Fitting liberatory lessons into limited timeframes

within little boxes on semester syllabi

as critical resources once available without cost

disappear from the internet

is becoming an ever-more challenging,

time-consuming undertaking

but it’s still worth the effort

even though I may not be here

to see whether my work matters

in dawning new years yet to come

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sunny morning march 2019

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Sending gratitude to all of my dear blogging friends

for your friendship and support over the past years

along with my blessings for the new year

Early December Reflection – 2021

The setting – a conference for tribal social services staff

The activity – a dance to celebrate cultural connections

The Traditional Presenter – “You need to dance. You’re an important person, a leader”

Me – “I don’t see myself that way. I’m clumsy and shy and I don’t know the dance.”

The Traditional Presenter – “Dance anyway for the sake of others. Let them teach you.”

The lesson – humility and the importance of finding courage to try anyway

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early december reflections 2021

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Memories inspired by a photo shared with me decades ago by Linda Reivitz, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services (left), discovered when purging old files – an embarrassing, humbling experience accepting an award for just doing my job from then Wisconsin Governor, Tony Earl (1983 – 1987) during an all-too brief era of hope.

Late November Reflections – 2021

These days, I do write a lot

as a way to rebalance after reading

volumes of student papers

I do love to work with students,

but I really do dislike grading –

playing the role of gatekeeper

because their future writing

may determine the treatment

and wellbeing of the people

they’ll serve in their jobs

as service providers, advocates,

or therapists for children, families, elders

or even for communities and governments

I wish more of them

would follow the advice

I shared at the beginning

of their first semester

calvinandhobbes

By Bill Watterson, (1993, February 11). Available at GoComics

Sometimes it takes me hours

to plow through each paper

adjusting to each different topic

and each unique experiential perspective

carefully trying not to silence their voices

as I struggle to find just the rights words

to provide thoughtful feedback

without destroying self-confidence or souls

keeping in mind, of all things,

words from “The Fool’s Prayer”

“The ill-timed truth we might have kept –

Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?

The word we had not sense to say –

Who knows how grandly it had rung?”

(Edward Rolland Sill, 1936)

I keep that in mind

when I decide if and what

to post on this blog now

I don’t often post these days

In part because there’s too little time

for me to visit other’s blogs

or even reply to comments on mine

in a timely fashion

There’s another more important reason, too

I have begun self-censoring

what I’m willing to share

when my versions of truth

may be “ill-timed”

and only “pierce and sting”

evoking strong emotions

for no purpose other than venting

without any opportunity to provide

a “balsam for mistakes”

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The uncensored excerpt from today’s reflection…

November 26

I greeted this morning with wonder, gratitude, and laughter

as I watched a fallen curled brown leaf

that appeared to be hovering just above the earth

sometimes dancing in a gentle breeze

Eager to see if I could capture the moment in a photo

I ran into the house to grab my iphone

As I adjusted the camera focus, I hit a wrong button

choosing video rather than photo which I quickly deleted

thinking to myself, “this would be a real sleeper”

It’s fascinating how quickly perspectives can change

in response to a chance encounter, though

late novemer 2021 dancing leaf

Still, like the leaf, I feel suspended

between different views of what is real

as my heart aches for the world in these tragic times

when myths and false hopes are the only option

governments have to offer to divert attention

away from the real global threats

posed by greed and unbridled consumption

That is no laughing matter –

but the little leaf was still hovering after this long reflection

Perhaps it’s a hopeful sign that things may not always be

as precarious as they appear to be at one moment in time

Work Cited:

Sill, Edward Roland (1936). The fool’s prayer. In H.S. Schweikert, R. B. Inglis, & J. Gehlmann (eds.), Adventures in American literature (pp. 670-671). Harcourt, Brace and Company.

An afterthought – After waiting patiently for hours for me to finish writing my reflection, the little dancing leaf was still standing, so I decided it deserves a debut…

Mid-November Reflections – 2021

November 4

Greeting a cold bright morning

watching a shower of golden leaves

falling steadily from the popple and cottonwoods

frost glistening on wilted grass

listening to the whir of traffic, a distant crow call,

and the rustle of crispy leaves

as they blanket the earth

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mid-November 2021 1

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November 14

Yesterday, I wrote down words that flowed through me, a poem of sorts. If it’s accepted for publication, it won’t be posted here. Yet I wanted to share some of the things I realized in the process of trying to explain thoughts and feelings about what we have all lived through during the past two years. I asked a friend to listen to the poem before I sent a draft to the potential publisher. She pointed out that the poem highlighted the advice I shared with her a while ago that had helped her through a difficult time. I didn’t realize how consistently the strategy I shared with her has helped me face challenging situations in my own life.

I learned to repeat a simple mantra in my thoughts.

Just breathe,” I told myself when I faced an audience of 50 people or more, when I stood before State legislators to present testimony, when I lost someone dear, or when I had to resolve conflict in contentious situations. It’s a mantra that helped me survive the challenges of asthma, anxiety, and allergies that have periodically forced me to consciously focus on breathing. It helped me survive an undiagnosed illness in mid-March 2020 that left me struggling for breath for more than a week, returning periodically for several months afterwards. Hopping on a self-propelled treadmill, I forced myself to keep breathing. “Just breathe, just breathe, just breathe.”

It worked. I am here to write these words, grateful to my daughter who delivered groceries to my doorstep when I was too sick to go out and was unwilling to expose others to whatever I had.

As I wrote my poem of sorts yesterday, I relived heartbreaking events. I thought of the Corona virus that continues to strike indiscriminately, disabling and killing millions around the globe as it attacks people’s ability to breathe. And I thought of the masks that make breathing harder but may protect others which have caused so much controversy. I thought of George Floyd’s words as he lay dying during a painful, brutal, police execution on May 25, 2020. “I can’t breathe.” I thought of the fires raging around the globe making the air unbreathable thousands of miles away and devastating so many lives in the process. I thought of the discharges from industries that fill cities with toxic pollution, often located in the poorest neighborhoods throughout the nation and the world. Breathing clean air is a luxury that so many people do not have. Being able to breathe free of oppressive forces interwoven throughout social institutions is even rarer still.

There’s not much, if anything, I can do to change global conquests for control that leave so many people gasping for breath or thirsting for safe water to bathe in, drink, and share with crops to feed families and communities. But I can set aside time each day to breathe and reflect, to envision practical ideas for raising awareness, encouraging caring, and inspiring local solutions that just might mobilize others to engage in concrete, constructive efforts to live with greater care for each other and the earth.

For now, I am grateful I can “just breathe,” and do work that may help others do so, too.

mid-November 2021 2

Late October Reflections – 2021

October 27

My research classes always begin

with a simple but-oh-so important question

when one stops to consider

an essential foundation for research and life

“What did you notice today?”

late october 2021 1

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Before the last class on October 23

I was reminded of something

that has caught my attention recently

In the early morning or late afternoon

when the sun is just rising or setting

thin shimmering threads that are otherwise invisible

are suddenly revealed as strands of light

covering the lawn, connecting the tips of grass

bridges created by tiny spiders quivering in the breeze

that only they can safely travel

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Last evening just before sundown

when the light was just right again

I noticed the shining threads were all missing

perhaps washed away by intervals of rain

during the past few days

I am hopeful the spiders will continue to weave

their shimmering threads because it’s their nature to spin

it’s not just the rain that erases their handiwork

I am sure they have had much to repair

after I have passed through their landscapes

unaware of the wonder of their silken threads

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I am reminded of a poem, The Fool’s Prayer by Edward Rowland Sill (1936)

“These clumsy feet, still in the mire,

Go crushing blossoms without end;

The hard, well-meaning hands we thrust

Among the heart-strings of a friend…

Be merciful to me, a fool!”

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Spinning creations of beauty and light

through one’s work seems a never-ending task

In the future I will try to remember to notice

the lives that I might unintentionally threaten

 with “clumsy feet still in the mire”

Work Cited:

Sill. E. R. (1936). The fool’s prayers. In H.S. Schweikert, R. B. Inglis, & J. Gehlmann, Eds., Adventures in American literature. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 670-671.

Note:

My attempts to find information on the internet about tiny spiders that spin threads between blades of grass not webs were unsuccessful. I mostly found advertisements about how to get rid of spiders in lawns that I didn’t bother to read.

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October 27

Rainy day work processing chard

Washing, chopping, blanching

getting it ready to freeze

watching the second hand

make it around three times

on the battery-powered wall clock

mounted above the stove

as I breathe in the warm, misty

chard-scented air

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(Believing it would save time,

I once tried the timer on my iphone

but being inept with technology

the phone set off alarms

for the battery-backup surge protectors

used for computers and appliances

throughout my house

It’s not an experience I’m willing to repeat

But I digress …)

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I had time to think during the interstices

as the chard blanched before bathing in cold water

I wondered if what I have done as a teacher

made any difference in the lives of students

reminding me how grateful I am for teachers

who made a difference in my life

all sharing valuable lessons

including those who provided clear examples

of what I hoped never to become

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‘though teaching seems a never ending task

I feel blessed doing work that may open up possibilities

perhaps mostly in humble, invisible ways

But it’s time for reflections to end for now

The blanched chard is packed in freezer bags,

Freezing…

All too soon, the weather will be doing so, too…

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late october 3

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Note:

For more information about chard: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/284103

Early October Reflections – 2021

October 9, 2021

Dearest Mother, I remember

sitting beside you

as you struggled to breathe

on your last day of life

October 10, 2010

I am not sure if you heard me

or recognized that the person beside you

was your daughter

gently stoking your thinning silvered hair

telling you I loved you

letting you know I was grateful

you could finally be free of pain

although I would miss you deeply

for the rest of my life

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Beloved Mother, I remember

the photos I discovered

that you lovingly arranged in albums

chronicling the seasons of your life

Norma 1 g g

the sometimes forlorn little girl

raised on the reservation by an aunt

until you were taken by federal agents

to be shamed for your heritage

in the process of being “saved” and “civilized”

by priests and nuns

in the Catholic “Indian” boarding school

where you were placed involuntarily

without your family’s or community’s

consent or approval

Norma i g

You survived nonetheless

and lived a life

that made the world a better place

because of skill and compassion

that your healing presence

norma loyola graduation

Graduation from Loyola University

Norma nursing home

Owner and Administrator of Keystone Nursing Home visiting with residents

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norma community work

Community Engagement

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brought into the lives

of all those who knew you

august 2020 3
My mother greeting her new great grandson and granddaughter – March 1999

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October 11, 2021

Sorrow sometimes surfaces suddenly

revealing buried grief

that we believed had been resolved

with passing time

Long life leaves losses

that accumulate through the years

as we say so many goodbyes

to family, friends, furry and feathered companions,

and our youthful dreams of what could have been

Reflective resilience reveals rewards

described in a poem …

“After a while you learn

That even sunshine burns if you get too much.

So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,

Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you really can endure…

That you really are strong,

And you really do have worth.

And you learn and learn…

With every goodbye you learn.”

(original by Jorge Luis Borges, perhaps modified by Veronica A. Shoffstall who is often attributed as the author)

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IMG_0732 (1)

The final resting place for Cookie, Pinto and two aged willows

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October 14, 2021

Light sometimes makes its presence known

on the dark and rainy days of autumn

in ways that are surprising

golden leaves that glow despite clouds

or the kindness of virtual exchanges

about topics that are boring to most

which somehow trigger unexpected insights

that help one look back with gratitude

on a long life well-lived

golden autumn 1

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